Old Friend: Kernel
Moldbug makes reference in his Dawkins series to a term called the kernel and defines it as the set of themes an individual subscribes to, which I take to be equivalent to his original definition of a kernel as an individual’s set of received beliefs about the real world, modulo his subsequent refinement of the theory to handle mundane-vs.-metaphysical positions differently. But elsewhere he refers to it as a “belief system”: the set of assertions you agree with.
And indeed both in Moldbug’s use and elsewhere the distinction between received beliefs, transmitted by traditions one subscribes to, and those derived from individual experience tends to drop out of sight. This is a strategic retreat I wholeheartedly endorse, because the distinction between “things I learned on my own” and “things I learned on my own while relying on presuppositions and applying theories I learned from other people” is not something you want to get sucked into defending.
In the end, that ambiguity doesn’t tend to matter much because of another equivocation, namely that between the kernel itself (remember, that’s the whole set of themes some individual subscribes to) and the prototype of a kernel, which captures the common pattern (we can probably just say “area of overlap”) of a set of people, like Buddhists or environmentalists. The purpose of the kernel/prototype distinction is to set up the concept of a complete prototype which corresponds to a coherent identity or worldview (the areas of overlap between the kernels of all Buddhists could play this role, the overlap of all cigarette-smokers probably could not), but this point largely falls out of sight because I’ve never seen anyone use “kernel” to mean anything but “complete prototype-kernel”. In other words, people talk about the Enlightenment kernel, the Islamic kernel, and the Confucian kernel with nary a worry about all of the unique elements in the whole sets of (received?) beliefs of individual Confucians.
New Friend: Subkernel
A subkernel(a, b) is a subset of a kernel which directs the subscriber to subscribe to a tradition that transmits a kernel of type a if conditions b are satisfied. More generally, we can say that the subkernel is the part of the kernel which teaches us how to evaluate kernels, traditions, and the institutions that transmit them.
Most kernels will, for evolutionary reasons, have simple subkernels which instruct the individual to continue to subscribe to the traditions which transmit it! But this is not the end of the story. Kernels usually start life as viruses and they typically direct the host in circuitous ways that do not present themselves as narrowly concerned with the persistence of the kernel. As a result, situations arise where a finely-tuned parasitic subkernel inadvertently directs its host to convert to a different kernel. These should occur especially when there are no available repeater institutions (probably a fatal situation for the kernel anyway, and at any rate one which pressures every individual theme to fend for itself), when the host appears to be a memetic dead-end (low social status, few social connections, no descendants), or is in fact approaching death. They are also more likely in a novel memetic environment, and especially likely in a rapidly-changing memetic environment (i.e. one where conversions are happening too quickly for the old subkernel to evolve).
There are also situations where a kernel has led (or is directing) its host into such grim circumstances that the host’s suppressed immune system is triggered by his emotional turmoil (kernel panic?), and as a result he starts haphazardly rejecting elements of his current kernel. Disjointed still-functioning elements of the (prototype-)kernel may combine with elements from other sources to operate as a ramshackle subkernel to help the host decide how to negotiate his subscription options.
I would also like to modify the hypothesis I just advanced: i.e., that “in the wild” simple subkernels will be the most common variety. Strictly speaking, most traditions probably develop a Vicar of Bray-type subkernel which directs the host to submit with minimum resistance if a sister-tradition starts to dominate the host’s environment and eliminate the transmission of the tradition to which the host previously subscribed. Two sister-traditions share the overwhelming majority of their themes, and these shared themes would be unlikely to direct him to cut himself off from all sources of indoctrination just to protect the small number of themes which are unique to one of the traditions.
Furthermore, remember that memes are essentially morbid, so a subkernel will try not to interfere in its hosts subscriptions unless these conflict with what its own tradition transmits. It would be pointless for a kernel to direct its host to martyr himself rather than subscribe to the dictator’s economic ideology if the kernel lacks any economics-relevant themes. Indeed, far better (from the kernel’s point of view) for the host to become a fanatical devotee of Dear Leader’s economic thought and use the status his sycophancy wins him to transmit his original kernel. (If we need a name to compare it with the simple subkernel and the Bray subkernel, maybe we can call this strategy the Capernaum subkernel?)
However, the variety of subkernel I’m interested in isn’t one which concedes peripheral or irrelevant themes to an invasive tradition in order to protect the subkernel and other core themes. I’m most interested in subkernels which are effectively designed to function in a way that will ultimately write over (a) most of the current kernel, possibly including its most “protypical” elements, and (b) the core functional elements of the subkernel itself.
How could such a thing come into being? It would help if subkernel(a, b)’s trigger condition, b, was fairly remote; that would give the subkernel some time to infect others before self-destructing. It would also help if a and b were given as a sequence of tradition-types and of conditions, such that after condition b1 triggered, subkernel(a, b) directed the host to subscribe to some tradition which also transmits subkernel(a, b), or is consistent with it.
It would also, of course, help a great deal if the target tradition, a, were symbiotic with its hosts and host-communities, and if the goods this symbiosis promotes were the very same goods which subkernel(a, b)’s host’s original kernel prized most highly before he was infected with subkernel(a, b). This will make it harder for the kernel to fight off subkernel(a, b); and indeed, (some elements of) this original kernel may survive the ultimate conversion to a and do very well out of the whole process.
Finally — just a thought — it would probably be helpful if tradition a’s account of what it asks for from potential converts matches something subkernel(a, b) is able to direct the host to do, given the rest of his kernel.
For example, if the host currently believes a lot of the a-kernel is deluded nonsense, subkernel(a, b) cannot simply direct him to subscribe to the themes in question. Clearly that would conflict with the themes to which he is already subscribed! Subkernel(a, b) can direct him to subject himself to the transmission of a-themes, but even that will be difficult if the a-tradition teaches that unbelievers need to make up their minds to accept everything the tradition teaches.
Far better if there were a class of traditions which taught that subkernel(a, b)’s host can’t simply force himself to believe the a-themes, even if he wanted to. I dunno, maybe there’s some tradition out there somewhere that teaches that only God can make someone a believer? Since the host believes it would be pointless to try to believe this nonsense and the best he can do is play along, and the tradition nods in sincere agreement and confirms that it would be pointless for him to try to obtain faith other than through the grace of God, nothing the tradition asks him to do during the conversion process should strike him as beyond his abilities.
The Restoration Subkernel
The Right faces a slight ideological inconvenience. Many of us agree that tolerance is malign; all of us agree, at least, that tolerance should not be fetishized; and that the problems with the classical liberal case for tolerance crop up not just in one or two areas, but systematically in every cultural domain. The Right is realistic about the value of order, of homogeneity, of uniformity, of a stable background environment.
But we are not ourselves especially homogeneous–and therein lies the inconvenience. Protestants and papists can find common ground on the position that neither side was obliged to tolerate the other, but a post-restoration state can only refuse to tolerate one or the other!
Meanwhile, there are many right-wing atheists, deists, pagans, Jews, and no doubt a few followers of Eastern religions sprinkled in, as well. What exactly they hope for from a restored political order may differ, but they surely do not expect that there will be any progressives in black robes to cripple the religious authority (and almost certainly, Christian religious authority) of the state.
The same logic applies to society more generally. Again, the Right embraces realism, and I don’t think right-wingers expect to rule before a huge number of notables who are currently apolitical have had a chance to swing their allegiances from progressivism to the Next Big Thing. These people will take a variety of religious stances, as well; they may be ideologically flexible, but almost none of them are currently traditionalist Christians. Can we make the ideological volte-face easier for these opportunists?
Some have suggested that the answer is to identify the core salutary principles that will animate a healthy state–principles compatible with all of the religions that produce statesmen–and exclusively promote those principles, while permitting any tradition which is consistent with those core principles to flourish (particularly if it is also willing to incorporate those principles into its teachings).
Personally, I don’t find this syncretic approach to reconciling our religious factions appealing. But maybe I could help write some promotional material for the Imperial Religious Cult?
Elevating generic principles compatible with many religions to the level of state religion has already been tried, and I would rather not be around for the second trial.
A far better approach, I think, would be the following:
- Ask all reactionaries to accept the value of a state having a religion, rather than no religion.
- Ask them to accept that when a state does have an official religion and/or religious homogeneity, it is good for the state’s subjects to abide by the rules of that religion and conform to the expectations it sets.
- Ask them to accept all the pragmatic reasons, in a state which (to its great benefit) has an official religion whose rules the subjects generally respect, for a pragmatic conversion to the official church.
- Finally, ask them to accept the possibility that in doing all the things respectable, pious adherents of the official religion generally do, they will eventually convert quite sincerely.
The exact details would vary slightly from case to case. Nearly everyone can agree on #1 without reservations; #2 is broadly valid but might, ironically, be more acceptable to atheists and agnostics than for theists (who may have reservations about various heresies that provoke the wrath of God); and the interpretation of #3 and #4 will have to vary a great deal by individual. But there should be some version of each point acceptable to everyone, and jointly they all point to the same place (adherence to some official religion) even if they have very different points of departure.
Once everyone on the Right is agreed on broadly what form the endgame will take (e.g.: an official religion will be instituted) and how everyone plans react to that (pious public adherence to the official religion), a great deal of uncertainty is resolved. Those who are (or were, originally) nonbelievers do not have to worry about whether and to what degree they will be persecuted. Promoters of the soon-to-be official religion do not need to worry about the forms of resistance and revolt they will face from reluctant nonbelievers. Infighting will be kept to a minimum.
I have sketched out this program in terms of religion, but I believe it should be perfectly general across the cultural domain. Whatever question about self-expression arises, the reactionary position is that toleration is a luxury and that suppression of some form of self-expression is entirely within the rights of a sovereign. If you and I disagree on the cultural issue itself, we should at least agree that we ought to have a sovereign, and that that sovereign can resolve the cultural issue exactly how he pleases (if he should happen to consider it a matter worthy of his attention). Thus we should also agree that the fight for a real sovereign comes first, and that if a restoration occurs our petty personal disagreement about the issue is irrelevant and the final decision of the sovereign is everything.