Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two (Metamodern Guides), by Hanzi Freinacht; Metamoderna ApS (May 29, 2019), 495 pages
Summary and Review – Part 1
My review of the previous book The Listening Society ended up being quite lengthy, so for the sequel, which is a longer book, I’m going to split up my review and do it by part. Nordic Ideology is a three-part book, so there will be three reviews for it.
Click here to see my summary and review of The Listening Society.
Click here to see Part 2 of my summary and review of Nordic Ideology.
Click here to see Part 3 of my summary and review of Nordic Ideology.
Introduction: Blazing New Paths
This book begins by saying that the previous book, The Listening Society: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book One, which I have already reviewed, wasn’t as important as this book. It’s main thesis, according to the authors (going under the pen name Hanzi Freinacht, who I will hereafter just call Hanzi), is that development matters. That is, psychological development in the dimensions of Hierarchical Complexity stage, Symbol-Stage, Subjective State, and Depth.
Humans, Hanzi says, are “gods with anuses”: we have all the wonder and beauty of consciousness, but are still shackled to the frailties of our bodies. But, as gods, we have also tethered ourselves to social, cultural, linguistic, economic, etc. barriers. But, he says, we are capable of changing these things. Indeed, he says:
That the very fabric of everyday life can and must be intelligently developed is the essence of political metamodernism. We take a creative and playfully developmental stance towards society and existence as a whole. Wider and more abstract perspectives on society’s evolution can allow us the luxury – or at least the possibility – of forging the path that society takes. In other words: we can affect how society develops, what everyday life becomes. This is made possible by us understanding the directionalities and potentials inherent to how societies function. [bold and italics in original]
After giving a brief summary of the previous book, Hanzi says that where that one was broadly about developmental psychology, this one is about developmental sociology. He then gives an outline of the book, which is separated into three parts: The Map, The Plan, and The Proof.
The Map: how society has and is evolving
The Plan: how to direct the evolution of society towards “(relative) utopia” which will include six new forms of politics:
- Democratization Politics
- Gemeinschaft Politics
- Existential Politics
- Emancipation Politics
- Empirical Politics
- Politics of Theory
The Proof: shows why we need political metamodernism over any other available political ideology (e.g., socialism, libertarianism, conservatism, anarchism).
Part One – The Map: How Society Develops
Fanfare to Part One: Attractors
Part one, Hanzi warns, is the most difficult part of the book. It is more theoretical. It will show “how society has evolved, how the logic or pattern of its evolution has unfolded, then we examine how such a developmental pattern still applies today.” This entails:
- The state has evolved in recognizable ways – and a new stage of its development is underway. Another way of saying this is that the “order” develops.
- Freedom in society has evolved, and a new stage of political freedom is underway.
- Equality in society has evolved, and a deeper form of equality is becoming possible.
- Norms and values have evolved, and new values are being written on new tablets for new times.
These things stabilize around certain “attractor points” according to Hanzi. What an attractor is will be the subject of this “Fanfare to Part One” (a sort of prologue to the first part).
An attractor, Hanzi says, is a potential future that pulls the present towards it. He uses Gandhi and Steve Jobs as examples of people who could see and predict the attractors. Gandhi saw that colonialism was coming to an end and self-determination was going to be the new geopolitical norm. Steve Jobs saw that computers had more potential than just being calculators for the government, but that the future was going to be a time of personal computers.
The technical definition of an attractor, Hanzi says, is:
Technically speaking, an “attractor” is a pattern of equilibrium that under certain conditions is very likely to emerge and stabilize within a dynamical system, such as a society. We went from hunter-gatherer societies to agriculture – in Eurasia and the pre-Colombian Americas separately – because agriculture was an attractor. We all started using interconnected computers, because digitization was an attractor. These things did not happen randomly. [bold in original]
The modern democratic state with its separation of powers, Hanzi says, is an attractor. Even despotic and totalitarian regimes try to give their rule a veneer of democracy. Dictators hold elections, even though they cheat and coerce, to give some semblance of having the people’s support, whereas kings of old never bothered with this. Many countries have parliaments/congresses/dumas/diets/councils and so on as legislative bodies, even if they’re just rubber stamps for the dictator; such things were not common at all in monarchies of the past. The judiciary exists in most countries as a separate branch, even if they are not always independent; in the past, such things were often handled by monarchs, nobles, or the clergy, which were very much not a separate branch of the government. The point being, democracy, in some form, even if corrupted practically beyond recognition, is still something to which almost every government in the world at least pays lip service. This is because, Hanzi says, it is an attractor.
While seeing an attractor before it arrives is good if the attractor is real, it can be bad if it’s not. Hanzi says that this is what happened with Karl Marx: he thought communism was an attractor when it wasn’t, and the result was 100 million deaths. Thus, it is vitally important to get the attractor right.
Given the sorts of changes we’re seeing in the world, Hanzi thinks we need to discover what the future attractors are that will replace the order of liberal, democratic states with market economies. We won’t be able to have a crystal-clear view of this attractor, Hanzi notes, but we can at least get a good sense of which direction it’s in. To do this, we are going to need the map for which this first part of the book is named.
Chapter 1: Relative Utopia
Our modern world, Hanzi says, is a relative utopia for our ancestors. Despite all the problems of modern Western civilization, even the kings and nobles of past feudal societies would hardly dream of the embarrassment of riches even the typical average person enjoys today: access to fresh food all year long; healthcare; dental care; rapid, safe, and relatively cheap travel, etc. The metamodern future, Hanzi predicts, has every chance of being a relative utopia compared to what we have today, enjoying a world that we modern people could only conceive of in our wildest fantasies, much like our current world is to our forebears.
Modern society has in a large way, though still imperfectly, solved the problems of pre-modern society. Yet, some residuals of those problems still remain: hunger, poverty, disease, war, oppression, slavery, etc. But, in relative terms, Hanzi notes, these problems are all drastically decreased. However, there are also new problems that have emerged because of our modern society, namely ecological sustainability, inequality, alienation, and stress.
Furthermore, Hanzi says, there are two other types of issue that come with our modern society:
- Beauties Lost: the qualities of earlier societies that we have lost. These are things like our communitarian lives, simplicity, “connection to the soil”, and so on
- New Heights: problems that earlier people would scarcely have thought of as problems because there was no conceivable way to address them. Hanzi lists four:
- Lack of meaning and fulfillment
- Lack of a sense of larger purpose
- Gender equality and freedom of identity
- Animal rights
Metamodernism is utopian in this relative sense. Hanzi says:
A society can be described as metamodern if, and only if, all of the problems of modernity have been more or less resolved, meaning they have been reduced by at least a power of ten. [bold in original]
He says, just like modern society has lingering residual problems and new problems, the metamodern society will as well. But, just like our modern problems are preferable to the problems of pre-modern society, the metamodern problems will be preferable to the modern ones.
Chapter 2: Game Change
Game change, according to Hanzi, is:
At its fundamental core, societal progress is about “game change“; it’s when the background rules of life’s interactions – everyday, normal interactions – change and evolve. Progress is when the game of life become fairer, kinder, more transparent, more inclusive, more forgiving, more sustainable, more rational, more fulfilling. [bold in original]
But, he warns, Game Change has been spawned from two evils that he calls Game Denial and Game Acceptance.
Game Denial is forcing an incompatible “ought” onto an “is” by pretending or denying that certain rules of life don’t exist. Some (but not all) of the examples he names are:
- Open Borders: game denial because societies have limits on how much immigration they can handle, and often harms those lowest in the economy
- Universal Basic Income: game denial because it tries to pretend that incentives aren’t a thing – someone has to clean the toilets, but if nobody has to do it for money (because they’re already receiving UBI), then it won’t get done
- Feminism: while many of its goals are laudable and morally imperative, the attack on dominance (e.g., ambition and high-status) traits in masculinity will only work if women stop being attracted to such dominance within masculinity (which research, Hanzi says, is not the case, but he does not give a specific reference)
- Ending U.S. Imperialism Will Make Other Countries More Free: won’t make peace on earth, but only let someone else become the global imperial power
Game Acceptance is basically taking the way things are (the is) as the way things ought to be. The “hate the game, not the player” type who will argue that the way things are is just normal and natural. As a result, such Game Accepters will argue that it is impossible, undesirable, or both, to try changing anything for the better. At the most extreme, however, a person might say that because things are a certain way, then that should prompt us to amplify things, with the Nazis being an example – “Germans are the master race and so the Germans ought to rule all the other races” went the thinking.
Game Change is accepting that the game exists, but seeking to change the rules of the game so as to produce more win-win situations and fewer win-lose and lose-lose situations.
Chapter 3: History’s Direction
In this chapter, Hanzi gives an interesting summary of history beginning with the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, where a vision of the modern nation-state is commonly held to have first begun. I’m not going to recapitulate his entire summary here, except to say that it follows a course going from the Early Modern State to the Nation State to the Welfare State and then to the Listening Society (the last of these being the attractor, which is foreseeable by virtue of how things have developed up until now).
The theme that runs through this is that, according to Hanzi, the state has taken on a more and more intimate role in the lives of everyone within the state’s purview. The Peace of Westphalia established that the lords and monarchs in charge of a region (kingdoms, duchies, principalities, and so on, i.e., the precursors to the modern nation-state) could choose the official religion within their territory. The state at this time, however, was weak – not in a sense of not being violent, but in the sense that it didn’t have strong institutions. Most of the time, a peasant was left to fend for themselves, even if the crops went bad and they starved (there wasn’t a government institution to help them).
Throughout the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, states grew more powerful by erecting bureaucracies and rationalizing government administration. Additionally, things like police departments were created to enforce law and order among the citizens within a country; no longer was force primarily aimed outwards at the state’s neighbors.
The invention of the welfare state in the late 19th century and early 20th century saw the government taking even more control, continuing to run things like the law, education, economic activity, and so on, and now also beginning to take over institutions like healthcare, psychiatric care, childcare, old age care, and so on. The state bloated with bureaucrats and administrators, all keeping the machine that touches every part of our life running.
There are two things to keep in mind that Hanzi doesn’t explicitly discuss: (A) these new controls were installed to control many of the new aspects of life that were being invented, and (B) as societies grew more intradependent and interdependent, the epistemological problem of testimony begins to grow in importance.
For (A) what I mean is that, for instance, the invention of global trade introduced (or at least greatly amplified) an entirely new aspect of people’s lives. This had to be administrated. The invention of things like the steam engine, which kicked off the industrial revolution, saw new things like factory work, growing urbanization, and train systems being invented. My point is, it wasn’t like material conditions were the same but the government just decided to get more involved in people’s lives and the things they were already doing. It was getting involved in new things that people had previously not been doing. Police forces were created because the concentration of so many people into a small area increased crime; it wasn’t that the police force was invented to police the subsistence-farming peasants.
For (B) what I’m getting at is that we created a world for ourselves where we have to trust other people for more and more. Few people in the developed world build their own house, make all their own clothes, and grow all their own food. We thus have to trust that the builders, clothiers, and farmers know what they’re doing. Same with the people who build the roads and bridges, build our vehicles, ship goods from place to place, and so on. No single person knows how to make a pencil.
This is sort of a subcategory of (A) above, because this sort of specialization and intra/interdependence is something new in human history. The government administration is installed in aspects of our lives that are very new, including the amount of trust we have to put into millions upon millions of people we don’t even know.
My point with this is that the government is controlling new things, even while the old prohibitions and mandates our ancestors had to face (e.g., that women were treated like property) has been lifted. And so it’s somewhat misleading to say that our lives are more controlled now than our ancestors. Sure, a wooden house doesn’t need to be built with as strong of a foundation as a skyscraper, but it also has many fewer floors; our ancestors didn’t need an administrative department to ensure food quality, but they also didn’t have to depend on strangers living thousands of miles away to grow, process, and ship their food to them (while also shipping it in bulk to millions of other strangers).
According to Hanzi, the listening society that he proposes is possible to attain and it is necessary for a more just society add another layer to this intimate contact between the institutions (state or otherwise) and the individual (or the dividual as Hanzi likes to say). This would be a sort of psychological welfare, which seeks to foster personal growth and well-being within the citizens.
I’ve written in my review of Hanzi’s other book about my misgivings with this proposal: it sounds like an institution just begging to be corrupted and abused in the worst way. And since it has to do with psychological development, the abuse would be much more dangerous than the malfeasance and mishandling of money that is already rampant within both government and business. And even if it wasn’t the opportunists, it might be the true believers: the idea of the current gang of Wokesters and politically correct authoritarians having control over people’s state-mandated psychological development is terrifying. No less so than that this is already what the ravenous mob of grievance hucksters are already after.
But even if we assume that corruption and abuse will be at a manageable minimum, there is still just the issue of competency (especially if meritocracy is jettisoned). Government (and corporate) waste is bad enough when things are mismanaged as a matter of course, causing slowdowns, suboptimal service, and a plethora of screw ups that cost time, money, and lives. Can you imagine if such pervasive incompetence was at work in the psychological development of children?
Hanzi recognizes this possibility:
When we feel alienated, we seek reintegration. Metamodern politics, and the listening society, must empower people to reintegrate the parts of life that have been spliced into shards: the personal, the civic and the professional.
But the dark side of deeper reintegration of the spheres of life…is the emergence of new and more subtle forms of oppression. Integration is necessary for more complex societies to function, but it can always, sooner or later, become controlling or even icky and creepy. [bold in original]
Hence, the task is to balance out and support the forces of integration and [in]dividuation. This is what the listening society must be able to do. Nobody said it was going to be easy. But there it is: The increasing intimacy of control is linked to higher personal freedom, though in a difficult and painful manner that easily spirals off into oppression. We must relate productively to this dynamic. [bold in original]
I suppose where I differ from him is in thinking that the probability of a good outcome is exceedingly low. A person is justified in asking then: what do you, The Cynical Philosopher, have in mind? If you think trying to bolster and cultivate happier and more self-actualized people is such a recipe for disaster, what do you propose?
My answer is that I don’t really have an answer. I’m not a Game Accepter or Game Denier. I see the game, I see that it’s rigged, but I also see that the meta-game, where the rules of the game are decided and (potentially) modified, is also rigged. And not just by the conscious decisions of corrupt opportunists and fanatical true believers, but by our very human nature. Such meta-game institutions will be just as lousy with biased and noisy thinking as the institutions playing the current version of the game. In other words, I’m a Game Pessimist: the current rules of the game are awful and in need of change, but it could very easily become much worse, and humans are constitutionally incapable of knowing what rules would be good and of how to successfully achieve a new set of rules even if we could know.
In this pessimistic view, we might say that attractors are local minima of awfulness into which which humankind has stumbled, muddied and bruised. We remain within these shell craters of relatively reduced human suffering because humans are averse to the increased suffering that must be traversed to find a nearby lower crater (though some, like Lenin or Hitler, venture blindly out into the surrounding mounds of churned-up human torment, heading in the wrong direction, and must be dragged back down into the shell crater by force). Given the number of people that exist, it is statistically likely that a handful of them will be accidentally right about where the next local minimum is, making them appear as prophets. But for every Gandhi or Steve Jobs, there are a million people just as brilliant who get it wrong, some disastrously so.
Chapter 4: Another Kind of Freedom
Hanzi talks briefly about how freedom is conceived in our modern world by pointing to Freedom House. This is a non-profit organization funded by the U.S. government that rates countries based on things like election fairness, government functioning, and civil liberties. Specifically, they look at this:
A country or territory is awarded 0 to 4 points for each of 10 political rights indicators and 15 civil liberties indicators, which take the form of questions; a score of 0 represents the smallest degree of freedom and 4 the greatest degree of freedom. The political rights questions are grouped into three subcategories: Electoral Process (3 questions), Political Pluralism and Participation (4), and Functioning of Government (3). The civil liberties questions are grouped into four subcategories: Freedom of Expression and Belief (4 questions), Associational and Organizational Rights (3), Rule of Law (4), and Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights (4). The political rights section also contains an additional discretionary question addressing forced demographic change. For the discretionary question, a score of 1 to 4 may be subtracted, as applicable (the worse the situation, the more points may be subtracted). The highest overall score that can be awarded for political rights is 40 (or a score of 4 for each of the 10 questions). The highest overall score that can be awarded for civil liberties is 60 (or a score of 4 for each of the 15 questions).
Hanzi says that the main shortcomings of this are that (A) it assumes that their highest rating is the most amount of freedom that can be had, and (B) that everyone within a country will enjoy equivalent levels of freedom. (B) is not true because there are different kinds of freedom that are determined by things other than policy and legal rights. (A) is not true, but is merely a prerequisite for a better kind of freedom.
None of this is to downplay the significance of legal structures and the constitutional rights of citizens as measured by Freedom House. However, for the word “freedom” to have any value, to be truly meaningful, we need to include the emotional aspect. After all, if we don’t feel free, what does it matter to live in a country rated “1”? Emotions are just as important a part of freedom as our institutional and legal rights, and in order to reach higher levels of freedom, people must be emotionally emancipated.
The most solid way of introducing emotions into the study of freedom is to start from a negative: Can we imagine a concept of freedom that would completely exclude all emotions? Can we be free while being controlled by a paralyzing terror or shame? Not really.
So, if emotions should not be excluded from the study of freedom, what would be a productive way of introducing them? A simple but powerful way to do this is to study how different negative emotions can and do constrain people’s freedom. [bold and italics in original]
Human interactions, Hanzi says, are constrained by our negative emotions: things like shame, regret, and fear. People in situations sort of play a role, where the situation dictates how a person behaves just as much, if not more, than a person’s personality. He says:
Indeed, the process of “socialization” – when we grow up and become members of society by internalizing how to talk, behave and so forth – can be described as the learning of a host of behaviors that serve to avoid negative consequences; from the most concrete habits of not walking on red and safely navigating the melee of cars and pedestrians on the streets, to the subtlest ones like knowing when not to speak our minds and pretending not to notice when someone spits when they talk.
Breaking out of this can cause the collapse of a given social interaction. When we do it, often on accident, we feel ashamed and embarrassed. Thus, to avoid those negative feelings, we play our role within the social interaction.
These negative emotions are necessary for a society to function. Think of Diogenes of Sinope as an example of someone who might be unencumbered by social expectations. Society would be impossible if we were all like that.
But, Hanzi says, these expectations are mostly socially constructed. As such, we can think of the given set of social norms and mores within a particular society as a sort of emotional regime. What we want to do is find an emotional regime that is conducive to a functioning society, but that is the least oppressive – for instance, we don’t want an emotional regime that makes gays feel ashamed of their sexuality or make women feel ashamed about being sexually free (i.e., slut shamed). We therefore have what Hanzi calls an economy of emotions, where there are the poor (those whose lives are dictated by negative feelings) and the rich (those who are more free from such negative emotions). This relative freedom, in the emotional sense, is social, determined by ones interactions with other people – the “poor” in this economy of emotions are poor because of how other people interact with them.
Hanzi gives the negative emotions that regulate and constrain our actions a hierarchy, going from least bad to worst, and pairs them with levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
These feelings, as shown in the table, can be directed at ourselves (what I’ve labeled as self-judgement) and at others (other-judgement). The least bad one directed at the self, what Hanzi calls Sklavenmoral, is the feeling of shame we sense at our own strengths – it is the opposite of pride. If you’ve ever been ashamed to tell someone how much money you make because you know it’s way more than they do, or you felt ashamed to show off some physical feat that you’re capable of, that would be in this category. Directed at others, this is envy – you feel a kind of shame at not possessing the strengths that other people do.
He puts the fear/hatred as the worst because these are capable of trumping even guilt. When people feel fear or hatred, that can lead them to commit atrocities, because it has overridden one’s sense of guilt for committing terrible acts.
Whether guilt and shame should be switched around I suppose is a matter of perspective. Hanzi says the order they’re in here works because most people would likely choose to be an ugly, smelly loser than have to live with, say, having killed a small child. But, I think an argument could be made that committing such an act would also bring shame. Guilt is when a person feels they have done something bad, shame is when they feel like they are something bad. As such, along with the guilt of killing a small child would also be the shame of feeling like “I am a monster”. This is why I would also have put “feeling impure” as part of shame rather than guilt. But, it’s mostly semantics, so the order Hanzi uses is acceptable.
This order of emotional regimes in the table above, Hanzi says, corresponds with stages in the development of the state: early civilizations were concerned with survival, and therefore fear was the major regulating principle; governments were fear-based, with warlords and strongmen maintaining power through fear and force (and acquiring legitimacy by protecting its people from outside aggression).
Stronger states made feelings of belonging more important, and so guilt was the primary emotional regime (e.g., think of how religions heap guilt on people); this is where more abstract ideas of right and wrong arose, which led to more self-governance (the state didn’t need soldiers with spears imposing order if people would do the right thing out of a sense of rightness and avoid the wrong thing out of a sense of wrongness).
Modernism then brought dignity culture, which made shame the primary emotional regime; it’s not good enough to just do what is right and avoid what is wrong, but a person must be proper and cultured and obey etiquette (e.g., manners, hygiene, tidiness).
Hanzi says, however:
Again, it’s not that fear and guilt entirely disappeared; it’s just that they have been pushed further into the background. Fear and guilt are still the means used by the justice system to prevent people from breaking the law, but this plays a minimal role in most people’s lives. In functional modern societies, violence and public condemnation are simply minor concerns to the majority compared to that of being seen as a lower, a slob, a hypocrite, being fat and ugly, not being sufficiently refined and cultivated, etc.
This shame regime, Hanzi notes, is important and necessary in order for such a large, complex society of interacting people to function as smoothly as possible.
That we’re in a shame regime is also observed, he says, by the way that different groups – racial minorities, women, LGBT, autistic/neurodivergent, etc. – try to remove stigma (shame) and have pride (the opposite of shame).
This shame regime has to do with what I have called Freedom From Social Expectation, which I described as follows:
This is the freedom that comes from solitude. When you’re free to sit on your couch all day in your underwear eating Cheetos and binge-watching Netflix, without the obligations of work or family or even having to put on pants in order to walk among strangers, that is what modern people would likely see as “true freedom.” Indeed, freedom from obligation is my favorite kind of freedom.
This kind of freedom, however, can also be atomizing. It can lead to loneliness, depression, and the disintegration of our social fabric. When our social obligations feel like infringements on our freedom, then we’re likely to eschew such obligations such that friends, family, and romantic partners are only kept so long as they’re convenient. Throw your parents in a home and let someone else take care of them, because I certainly don’t want to do it. Break up with your romantic partner as soon as you stop feeling absolutely enthralled with them so that you an pursue that “new relationship” high with someone else. Dump a friend of 20 years because they voted for the wrong candidate, because having friends like that is mildly uncomfortable and isn’t a good look for you on social media.
The opposite of this, of course, is when people overextend themselves. This can come in two varieties. The first is the so-called “hustle culture,” which is a sort of extreme dedication to career or financial obligations. Over the last decade or so people are beginning to become aware that this is also not healthy, often leading to burnout and other emotional disorders.
The other variety would be clingy people or those kinds of people who find it difficult to say “no” to things. This is an extreme dedication to social relationships. Most people are aware that this isn’t healthy, either, as it can lead to things like codependency, or people getting taken advantage of, or burnout as people find it difficult to set aside any so-called “me time.”
Like with many things, our freedom from obligation is probably best kept somewhere between the two extremes of atomization and over-extension. Where that happy moderation lies between the two extremes is going to be different for different people.
Chapter 5: Freedom’s Beyond
Several hundred years ago, it was in vogue among royalty and nobility to conspicuously, even ostentatiously, display their opulent wealth, status, and majesty (the bourgeoisie were soon to follow, always chasing the latest fashions of the nobility).
Now days, however, such conspicuous displays appear to us as obscene. People now prefer humility. We prefer authenticity – not putting on airs and puffing ourselves up with braggadocio and unearned confidence; we hate people who are fake. Indeed, we get a sense of schadenfreude from seeing people who behave that way get brought down a peg. We like finding out that a celebrity is very “down to earth” or that our president “talks like us.” Hanzi says that we abide by the so-called Law of Jante, which says:
- You’re not to think you are anything special.
- You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
- You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
- You’re not to imagine yourself better than we are.
- You’re not to think you know more than we do.
- You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
- You’re not to think you are good at anything.
- You’re not to laugh at us.
- You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
- You’re not to think you can teach us anything.
This, of course, is the next stage of emotional regime – we are embarrassed by our strengths and therefore must show humility. It is not evenly distributed – some countries show more of this than others, some cultures and subcultures can show less of this (e.g., think of rappers, who often enjoy bragging about their material wealth and how great they are).
This does have an almost paradoxical result, however, in that people now find prestige in the “authenticity” and “uniqueness” of their identity. We want to overcome the Sklavenmoral – the internalized envy – within ourselves. This actually turns us into narcissists.
I might add that this narcissism isn’t based on what we have or what we are capable of doing, but for who we are. For instance, the people who tick off all the correct “intersectional” boxes are placed in the position of honor – not for their strengths, but often for their weaknesses. This can lead to narcissism, where the person thinks of themself as great just for being who they are, not for any sorts of talents or accomplishments.
This regime of envy, Hanzi says, leads people to become emotionally invested in the failure of others:
Whatever the source of this inner resistance [to other people’s success], the result is the same: It somehow feels good and reassuring to see them fail. This is symbolic investment in another’s failure – we wish for their failure not because of the results of another’s struggle for a better world, but because of what their success would symbolize and imply about ourselves. It is a rather frightening dynamic; suddenly, we may start preferring that someone fails to save a million lives, just to save our own sense of chosenness and immortality. That’s how trivial and automatic envy can be. [bold and italics in original]
This leads us to tear others down and avoid putting ourselves out there for fear of being torn down. The mediocre among us will seek to make the talented and successful more humble, but will only succeed in dragging them down into mediocrity with us by instilling sklavenmoral into them. We are thus freed of the sorts of rigid etiquettes and social mores of the previous emotional regime – we aren’t expected to always wear nice clothes and talk proper (e.g., no swearing or bad grammar) and conform to certain norms of conduct (e.g., acting “ladylike” or like a “man’s man”) – but we are now shackled to mediocrity.
This emotional regime, Hanzi says, can be overcome by self-discipline, intrinsic motivation, self-knowledge, and a more developed introspection. When the external motivations are thrown off, we are left only with our intrinsic motivation – we must be our own creators, as well as the authors of our society, rather than letting the emotional regime dictate who we and our society are. This can be done, according to Hanzi, by developing the four dimensions of people’s psychology: cognitive complexity, access to the right symbolic maps, higher inner sates, and greater depth.
Again, I find this description compelling, but I’m pessimistic about us reaching some post-emotional regime society. Right now we are becoming mired in sklavenmoral, with things like identity politics and wokeism installing itself as the new emotional regime. I see this going in either one of two ways:
- Becoming so obsessed with ourselves and each other, our evolutionarily built minds geared towards the social world, that our society stagnates or even regresses as ambition and merit are replaced by toxic notions of “fairness” and “equity” that bring us a sort of Harrison Bergeron society
- The cycle restarts as warlords, demagogues, and authoritarian dictators, now effectively unopposed by the soft and decadent societies bogged down in sklavenmoral, reimpose an emotional regime of fear and terror (i.e., similar to what happened to the Roman Empire in the 5th century)
But I hope I’m wrong.
Chapter 6: Dimensions of Equality
Since human beings are inexorably entwined in a process of co-creation with one another (our personality and sense of self is forged through our various social interactions), we cannot view ourselves as hermetically sealed individuals – the libertarian idea that “my freedom ends where yours begins”. Thus, Hanzi says, equality is an important aspect of freedom, since freedom is a collective venture, not an individualist one.
Equality, Hanzi says, comes with four paradoxes (put into list form here by me):
- first, that we are not de facto equal [because some people are smarter, stronger, more attractive, etc.]
- second, that eve a perfect meritocracy with no structural discrimination reproduces an exacerbated felt inequality
- third, that all equality is based upon viscerally felt and embodied recognition, but that we will only seek the recognition of the recognized, and thus only offer true recognition to limited segments of our social surroundings
- and last, the strange and subtle presence of envy.
I disagree somewhat with numbers 2 and 3. For 2, I’m not sure if a perfect meritocracy has ever been attained (and perhaps can never be attained), and so we aren’t really warranted in making this assertion. If we were to hypothetically achieve a perfect meritocracy, that would mean that positions are much more likely to be filled by extremely qualified people, which would make society run much smoother; the corrupt and incompetent would either be removed or prevented from acquiring positions that negatively effect people’s lives. Such a state of affairs could conceivably reduce feelings of resentment by either (A) actually reducing inequality, or (B) making such inequality less painful.
For 3, I don’t think it is the case that people only seek the recognition of the recognized. Populists, for instance, often seek the recognition of the downtrodden. People on Youtube, Twitter, and Instagram likely don’t care who is hitting the like buttons; what matters is that there is a large number of people doing it. If anything, our much more connected society has made the downtrodden much more recognized than ever before, even if just in aggregate. How many 18th century peasants do you know anything about? I bet many fewer people, even in their own time, knew those peasants compared to even the most down-and-out guttersnipe drug addict of today.
But, even if these aren’t paradoxes, I can see how they might be asterisks on the notion of freedom as it is commonly understood today (freedom of opportunity, i.e., removing all institutional barriers from everyone, regardless of accidental characteristics like race, sex, or socioeconomic status). For instance, I understand that being recognized begets more recognition – famous people are well-regarded by many people simply for being famous.
There are, Hanzi says, at least six dimensions of equality. Under the assumption that such legal and political equalities are already met, then the inequalities that must be examined are as follows:
- Economic – the inequality often thought about, where there is a large distribution of wealth and income inequality; often measured using the Gini coefficient
- Social – having charisma and networks of friends, often conceptualized as social capital; can often be delineated along lines of race, sex, disability, and so on, as well as economic matters (i.e., social inequality is not completely independent of economic inequality); has two subsets
- Social Status: determined by things like your job/career, prestige, and accomplishments
- Charisma: how you express yourself during social interactions; observed in how popular someone is
- Physiological – differentials in things like nutrition, stress (cortisol levels), epigenetics, and immune system function as a result of other inequalities; conversely, the fact that things like a person’s height can influence their station in life; things like disabilities fall under this as well
- Emotional – our environment and the emotions of those around us influences our mood, and some people are born into bad environments, have abusive parents, or are otherwise surrounded by unhappy people; has to do with a person’s min/max/med of subjective states as discussed in the previous book; these emotions create feedback loops, where happier people feel a greater sense of reward for doing good things, making them happier, while less-happy people feel less reward (often times even punishment) and therefore become less happy
- Ecological – “includes such things as access to fresh air, clean water, lush vegetation, beautiful scenery, healthy and non-toxic food, clean living space – even sunlight.”
- Informational – people’s access to information, and who gets to produce and control the information, is not equally distributed; indeed, big corporations often have access to enormous amounts of information about millions of people by collecting their data
Hanzi offers some suggestions for how these things might be addressed. Economic inequality can be addressed by redistribution. Social and emotional inequality can be addressed by counseling, therapy, and different approaches to education. Physiological by giving people more access to better nutrition and leisure time. Ecological inequality can be addressed through what he calls ecological rights.
All of these, I think, could be grouped under social and economic inequalities (hence why people often talk of socioeconomic inequality), though I understand why it’s important to specifically note the other ones. For instance, things like ecological, informational, and some aspects of physiological inequality could be addressed through economic inequality. Emotional and other aspects of physiological inequality fall under social inequality.
Chapter 7: Deeper Equality
The six types of inequality discussed above, Hanzi says, forms a sort of interconnected network, where each one affects all the others while also having properties unique to themselves. In order to get past our modern society and transcend to the metamodern society, all six have to be addressed. He compares this to reaching a new equilibrium point (and therefore a new societal pattern) in cymatics.
To do this, Hanzi says, we need to achieve three things: Equality, Equivalence, and Equanimity. These will be achieved in that order (though the latter two, he says, likely won’t be anytime soon) and have the following meanings, according to Hanzi:
- Equality: addressing the six inequalities discussed above, and in particular economic inequality
- Equivalence: ensuring that people (including ourselves) feel equal
- Equanimity: transcending notions of equality; in other words, reaching a point where people don’t feel envy or sklavenmoral
My critique here is probably pretty predictable. The Equivalence step is where things will really get stuck, and that’s assuming that the Equality step is ever actually achieved (a lot of both people and nations are not on board with things like wealth redistribution). The crab mentality is likely to make Equivalence an exercise is tearing people down. It’s already happening to a greater and greater extent with things like cancel culture and identity politics (and thus also producing a reactionary element on the right). Having greater Equality (in Hanzi’s definition) is likely only to engender more of such resentments as humans, always on the lookout for cheaters and unfairness, go conjuring up new forms of envy, grievance, and resentment. One would have to alter human nature itself to succeed at the Equivalence step.
Chapter 8: The Evolution of Norms
Norms are just what the name implies: those behaviors that a society or culture finds to be normal. This can be anything from simple etiquette all the way up to criminal behavior. Sitcoms like Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm are funny because they either subvert or take to extremes, different cultural norms in the West, and particularly in the United States. This is because, in many cases, norms aren’t tethered to morality, and so from the outside (or if thought about deeply from the inside) they can seem arbitrary or even strange.
Norms can shift as well. This is like the shifting of the Overton window. Hanzi uses the LGBT Rights cause, which gained an enormous amount of ground in the last two or three decades. Things went from viewing gay people as gross and outside the norm to now having homophobia be seen as backward and bigoted. This didn’t happen all on its own, Hanzi notes, but came about due to the leadership of what he calls “moral entrepreneurs,” which are people who expend a lot of effort to get norms to change (e.g., activists).
Norms are not necessarily determined by the effective value meme of society, but there is a dependence that Hanzi describes this way:
- the system of norms affects the formation of people’s effective value memes,
- the average effective value meme affects which emotional regime is instituted, and
- the degrees of equality and freedom shape how fiercely and bitterly the penalties and rewards of norm systems are distributed.
And so we can have game change when:
- populations develop into higher effective value memes [from the first book],
- when there are shifts in the intimacy of control [chapter 3], the emotional regime [chapters 4 and 5] and degrees of equality [chapters 6 and 7], and
- when there are shifts within the system of norms [chapter 8].
He gives a three-way Venn diagram which I have reproduced here:
The upper and left circles illustrate how progressives, who Hanzi says are at a higher effective value meme, spar with the conservatives, who are at a lower effective value meme, over the norms (e.g., LGBT rights vs. “traditional families”) – the so-called “culture wars.” The upper and right circles show how norms are enforced by the negative emotions that constrain our freedom – the forms of social punishments and rewards. The two lower circles show how people at different effective value memes experience and express themselves in social interactions.
In the middle is where these three things come together such that when they are all developed, it can lead to changes in the rules of the cultural game. This, Hanzi says, is why development is so important, with development entailing all of the following:
- Getting more people to higher effective value memes
- Higher MHC Stage
- Downloading better Symbol-Stage code
- Experiencing higher subjective States
- Growing in Depth
- Having a more intimate form of control (Order)
- Having deeper Freedom (beyond sklavenmoral)
- Having greater Equality, even moving up towards Equivalence and Equanimity
- Having more progressive and inclusive Norms
The second part of the book will be about the sorts of frameworks and institutions that Hanzi believes we need to put into place in order to achieve these developments. I will cover part 2 in another post.
This developmental view of history is interesting, but I’m always a little skeptical of trying to find meaning in the absurdity of history – “History is the autobiography of a madman.” As humans we always like to find a signal in the noise, even when one isn’t there. Imposing these metamemes or value memes on periods of history is somewhat ad hoc, but it doesn’t mean that as a nominalist framework it isn’t useful, sort of like dividing things up in to the “bronze age” and “iron age”.
These sorts of frameworks break down even more as we talk about the more recent past. Both because such sweeping generalizations work best when we can put some time between ourselves and then (to get better perspective and to ease emotional commitments), but also because anyone who says we’re currently in “the so-and-so age” is probably displaying certain cultural and/or ideological biases. It is, of course, part of the job description for sociologists to say what age we’re living in, but you’re likely to get as many different answers as there are sociologists, with high variance depending on ideological leanings and where the sociologist in question lives (i.e., a sociologist from Seoul, Korea will view it different than a sociologist from Buenos Aires, Argentina, both of whom will view it different from a sociologist in Alexandria, Egypt).
But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume Hanzi’s historical dialectic has merit.
If we examine Modernism, it didn’t come about without its fair share of bloodshed, as the Postfaustian order resisted the evolution. The U.S. War for Independence, the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, the 1848 Revolutions, and the First World War were all major points of resistance in that process of Modernization. The atrocities of communism and the Second World War happened because some people had different ideas about where Modernism ought to take us.
As we go into Postmodernism, there has been less bloodshed (yet), but it has not been without significant growing pains. Harmful ideas have installed themselves in Western institutions and begun to enshrine their falsehoods in both law and science. This has led to growing tensions (particularly racial tension) and real world harms (e.g., the radical Queer activists causing people who are not actually transgender to misidentify themselves as such, leading to the inevitable detransition movement).
Resistance is something that will inevitably happen for Metamodernism as well. And if the movement takes Hanzi’s approach, the focus on development will likely be a huge turn off for people. White people don’t like being told their evil by the Postmodern CRT crowd; men don’t like being told their sexist by the Postmodern feminists; most people don’t like being told that biological sex doesn’t exist. When the Metamodernists come along and start telling people that they’re too simpleminded to know what’s good for them, that they need to accept Metamodern politics that they don’t agree with, it will instill a lot of resentment. And so, even if what Hanzi says about development stages and all that is true, they will still resist.
One might even say that, without the adoption of Postmodernism, the world won’t be ready for Metamodernism. The conflict between Modernism and Postmodernism is still just heating up. Just like one would be hard pressed to bring animal rights to the Postfaustian 15th century (the world wasn’t ready for it yet), it could perhaps be too early for Metamodernism – only a society whose majority was at the Postmodern value meme would be ready for it. Yet, with most people unable to achieve MHC Stage 13 and unable to download the correct Symbol-Stage, and who have lived their lives almost entirely in the medium states, it is perhaps impossible for Postmodernism to be widely adopted, thus precluding the prerequisite for Metamodernism.
Yet, it may also be too late as well, if the issues Hanzi thinks are at stake are truly as pressing as he thinks. We may be in a predicament, where we cannot reach the Metamodern value meme before the problems that Metamodernism is suppose to solve go from emergency to catastrophe.
But, before we get ahead of ourselves, stay tuned for my summary and review of Part 2, which goes over Hanzi’s plan to actually bring Metamodern politics to fruition.