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 2
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 1 of my summary and review of Nordic Ideology.
Click here to see Part 3 of my summary and review of Nordic Ideology.
Part Two – The Plan: Metamodern Politics
Interlude to Part Two: The Plan
The Six New Forms
This section begins with a restatement of what is at stake, which Hanzi says is, even conservatively speaking, millions of human lives and many, many more animal lives. Our current political system(s) are inadequate for the task of handling everything the future has in store for us – technologies, multinational corporations, and so on. We thus have a moral duty to develop the psychology, norms, order, freedom, and equality of everyone as much as possible. Part 2 of this book will be discussing how Hanzi thinks we ought to actually do this. This will be done with six new forms of politics:
- Democratization Politics: Aims to create ongoing processes for developing and updating the system of governance and the quality of institutions.
- Gemeinschaft Politics (politics of relationships and community): Aims to improve the quality of human relationships across all aspects of society.
- Existential Politics: Aims to support all people on their life’s journey and spur inner growth, mental health and strong moral integrity.
- Emancipation Politics: Aims to create an ongoing process of protecting citizens from all sorts of oppression, not least from the other new forms of politics.
- Empirical Politics: Aims to evaluate all policies and institutional practices and make sure they are based on the best available evidence.
- Politics of Theory (or narrative): Aims to create ongoing processes for developing and updating the narratives society relies upon, how it “brainwashes itself”.
This will be done, essentially, by making the developments of society, which these new politics address, more explicit so that we can produce expertise and conceptual frameworks in those areas. Hanzi points out three caveats to this:
- These are not ultimate solutions, but processes. Just like a country having a ministry (or department) of finance doesn’t guarantee good finance, having, say a Democratization Politics doesn’t guarantee the highest form of democracy. That doesn’t mean that having a ministry of finance isn’t a good idea, since it increases the odds of having good finance; likewise for Democratization Politics, which will increase the chances of improving democracy.
- There is no hard-and-fast rule about what aspect of society ought to address these six new forms of politics – bureaucracies, markets (business), civil society, or some mixture of the three. Each of the six forms of politics can be handled by these three areas of society to different amounts in different countries.
- This will be speaking of society in the abstract, but does not mean that it must be thought of as a society with a state, although that is the way that it will often be discussed. In other words, if something is said to be in the purview of the state, a person can infer that it could also be handled in a different way then through the state.
Chapter 9: Democratization Politics
Democracy, Hanzi says, is supposed to be an ideal that we strive for, but it has become considered a done deal, something finished, making its current incarnation appear to be the natural or normal way that democracy ought to be. People think that a country is either a democracy or it isn’t, but it shouldn’t be thought of as so black-and-white. Democracy can be deepened. Indeed, the definition of democracy given by Robert Dahl has not been achieved by anyone (and perhaps can never be). This definition is the satisfying of the following 5 criteria:
- Effective participation: Citizens must have adequate and equal opportunities to form their preference and place questions on the public agenda and express reasons for one outcome over the other.
- Voting equality at the decisive stage: Each citizen must be assured their judgements will be counted as equal in weights to the judgements of others.
- Enlightened understanding: Citizens must enjoy ample and equal opportunities for discovering and affirming which choices best serve their interests.
- Control of the agenda: “The people” must have the opportunity to decide what should be actual political matters and which should be brought up for deliberation.
- Inclusiveness: Equality must extend to all citizens within the state. Everyone has a legitimate stake within the political process.
Places often held up as bastions of democracy (and even style themselves the defenders of democracy) like the United States do not really come close to meeting these criteria. The United States, according to Gilens & Page (2014) is a civil oligarchy (others agree). As such, Hanzi proposes that we make democracy into the process that it’s supposed to be, so that the way democracy is done can change with the times and based on what works. This can be done, he thinks, using political theorist Roberto Unger’s notion of experimentalism, where different types of democracy can be tried (in different places or in different times; Hanzi calls it experimental zones) such that then the best versions can be adopted.
Hanzi examines the historical trends of democracy, concluding that, first, decision-making power has become more disperse (it’s not all done by a single monarch, but is now done by congress/parliament, by various ministries/departments/bureaucracies).
Second, it has also come to integrate more and more into people’s everyday lives:
The point, then, is that democratic governance has come to dominate both greater material or natural resources, and it has begun to coordinate more human actions: longer stretches of time of people’s lives (in terms of time, effort and attention), in more minute details, playing parts in more abstract patterns of information, for more abstract shared goals. This means many more decisions must be made, much greater amounts of information organized. Hence, there is a move towards bureaucratization and digitization – anything that can cost-effectively monitor and control larger quantities of more varied (and specialized) human agency.
Third, there has been an increase in checks-and-balances and accountability, both within government itself (having different branches) and outside of government (e.g., the press).
Fourth, democracy has deepened: the franchise has expanded, but also it has become easier for everyday people to be heard by government officials (anyone can e-mail their representative; we now have “public spaces” like social media); we also have greater numbers of special interest groups representing more and more different parts of the population.
And finally, fifth, an increase in democratic values, which are essentially progressive values, egalitarianism, and what Hanzi calls co-development (for instance, the adoption of the debate principles of the Danish Alternative party (understanding that we can learn from each other)).
These five dimensions of deepening democracy, Hanzi says, can be used to divine the direction of the democracy attractor, and thereby tell us how to further deepen democracy. And so, if one is to defend against the further progression of these five dimensions, then one is a false defender of democracy, wanting to uphold the outdated and inadequate status quo. For instance, defending “the constitution” as some kind of sacred eternal law is defending an old, outdated form of democracy and is analogous to defending sharia law as the one true and eternal law.
I agree that there is no such thing as an eternal and sacred law to which society must fanatically cling. But I do see two reasons why stability is often preferable to change: (1) because people, on average, tend to be conservative insofar as we want to be able to know what to expect on a day-to-day basis, and (2) rapid change opens things up to arbitrariness.
For (1) I made the argument in my review of Jason Ananda Josephson Storm’s book Metamodernism: The Future of Theory, where I argued:
…stability allows for predictability, routinization, and reliability. Indeed, one could view political philosophy, philosophy of law, and bureaucratization as projects toward rendering the world predictable even as the rate of social, cultural, political, economic, etc. evolution accelerates exponentially. We want it to be the case that if you are accused for a crime now, you can expect largely the same treatment that you would have received ten years ago or that you would receive ten years in the future; we would not want to live in a world where the law was upheld in an arbitrary fashion or based on whim, or where accidental traits conferred differential treatment (even if this was poorly adhered to in the past, it is at least held up as the ideal). We want to know that the road system will continue to function, that we can count on our food being the same today (as far as food safety and quality) as it was yesterday, that when we get old we can count on the same (if not better) medical treatment, and so on.
It’s precisely because of its ability to predict things that science is held up as the paragon of knowledge. It’s reliable. The phone or computer on which you are reading this review works largely the same today as it will tomorrow, and it doesn’t matter if it was produced in Taiwan or Mexico or the U.S., because the scientific principles upon which it functions remain the same. In science, it is the differences that need explanation: one needs to account for why the hypothesis diverges from the null hypothesis.
For (2), this is just the same objection I’ve been making all along, that this would open things up to corruption, abuse, and likely totalitarianism. Such an undertaking as reworking democracy, which will almost certainly be carried out by lawyers, politicians, administrators, and the rich oligarchs to whom they all answer, can easily be done either with an overt increase in their own power, or a covert insertion of various legal loopholes and opportunities for shenanigans behind closed doors (think of all the free trade agreements and how absolutely corrupt those are). When people say that they want things to change, I think they often picture things changing in ways that they want, but that isn’t necessarily (and is quite unlikely) going to be the case. Current power structures are either going to want to maintain the status quo, or they will demand that any changes align with their own interests (probably arguing that they are “too big to fail” and therefore must be preserved in whatever comes next).
This critique I’m offering shouldn’t be construed as my saying that we may as well leave things as they are. It’s simply a warning that, as necessary as change might be, the chances of ending up somewhere worse than where we are is likely much bigger than an optimist like Hanzi might realize. There are many, many more ways that things can go wrong than there are ways that things can go right. To those of us living, the potential for misery is functionally infinite; the only guaranteed way to avoid it is to never have been born.
The following table sums up the rest of the chapter. You can see a larger version of it here.
The two entries in blue are things that I added but were not mentioned by Hanzi in the book. The instantiation of deliberative democracy lists some of the things Hanzi mentions, all of which are the Art of Hosting, Deep Democracy, Theory U, Sociocracy, Holacracy, and Teal Organization.
I particularly wanted to point to the addition of mine of the weakness of deliberative democracy. Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgement, the book by Daniel Kahneman, Oliver Sibony, and Cass R. Sunstein, argues that noise is distinguished from bias in that biases are mistakes or shortcomings in people’s thinking that occur predictably and reliably. Noise consists in those deviations from optimal thinking that are, well, noisy – a random scatter of ways in thinking. There are two kinds of noise: level noise and occasion noise. The former is the variation in decisions between different people, such as how, given the same information, two people can often come to different conclusions. Think of how two different doctors might come to different diagnoses from the same test results or symptomology, or how two different judges would choose different sentences for the same person having committed the same crime. Occasion noise is deviation in decisions made by the same person at different times. For instance, it’s been shown that a judge can often become harsher in their sentencing later in the day, or that doctors prescribe more painkillers later in the day.
One place, that is relevant here, where noise comes about is in the way people behave in groups when anonymity is lost. For instance (from this review of the book):
Relevant to current debates about college admissions, Noise contains a story from a university professor who was helping his admissions office review its decision process. He explained their process for selecting applicants. First, a person read an application file, rated it, and then handed it off with ratings to a second reader, who also rated it. As you can imagine, the first rater holds much more sway than the second, who might be reluctant to challenge the initial evaluation. The professor suggested masking the first reader’s ratings so as not to influence the second reader.
In other words, he suggested they use the “wisdom of crowds” method rather than the “madness of crowds” approach. The school’s reply: “We used to do that, but it resulted in so many disagreements that we switched to the current system.” As Kahneman and his colleagues point out, many organizations consider conflict avoidance to be at least as important as optimal decision-making.
And so, with this deliberative democracy, a weakness is that it might end up that “organizations consider conflict avoidance to be at least as important as optimal decision-making.” In other words, this deliberation process is likely to lead to a sort of regression to the mean, or even a different flavor of the tyranny of the majority, sometimes called the renormalization by intolerance or the paradox of tolerance (i.e., the people who are loudest and least likely to change their mind will often get their way since all the “tolerant” people will give in just to maintain harmony or avoid conflict).
This can also lead to increased extremism (from the same review):
Initial starting points can influence political views too. The book reports findings indicating that when a group of Democrats saw that a particular view was gaining initial popularity among Democrats, they too would endorse that point of view, ultimately leading most Democrats in the group to support it. However, if they saw that a specific opinion was gaining popularity among Republicans, they rejected it. Republicans behaved similarly. In short, the acceptance of a viewpoint can depend on its initial popularity and the specific group that accepts it.
This relates to another topic within the book: Group polarization. This is a special case of the “madness of crowds” phenomenon. Social psychologists have found that when individuals hold certain beliefs, they become more extreme in their beliefs when they interact with others who hold similar views. In a study on jury behavior, researchers gave jurors an eight-point scale to measure how severely they wanted to punish a law-breaker. They found that when individual jurists preferred severe punishment, the overall verdict ended up higher than that recommended by the median juror.
And so one can imagine how such deliberative bodies can easily lead to groupthink, or becoming echo chambers, communal reinforcement, false consensuses, and perhaps leading to radicalization, or at the very least suboptimal decision making.
This, of course, already occurs in legislative bodies. Since people – both constituents and fellow legislators – in many Western democracies can know how their legislators vote, they have an interest in voting in certain ways. This is meant to be a feature and not a bug: we have to know how they vote in order to hold them accountable, and most people do want their legislator voting the way they promised they would. But it does introduce incentives to the legislators to pander and appeal to extremes and lowest common denominators, as well as preventing people from “crossing the aisle” in the name of bipartisanship lest they appear to be appeasers or traitors. They therefore have incentives to “renormalize to intolerance” on their own side and “polarize” away from opponents (just look at what the Trump-supporting Republican party is doing here in the U.S.).
Personally, I think a vision of how “deeper democracy” will look in the future is what we already observe on Twitter and Facebook. A lot more vitriol, polarization, and shallowness, where discourse is traded in for hot-takes and clap-backs, virtue-signaling and purity-testing. Less will get done, not more.
Chapter 10: Evolving Democracy
Hanzi first discusses electoral systems (e.g., first-past-the-post, ranked voting, etc.), saying that there could be more ways of experimenting with this. He mentions ways that the internet could be used for voting. He names, but doesn’t discuss in any detail, some of the people who work on this (Tim O’Reilly, Clay Shirky, Martin Hilbert) as well as online tools for deliberative democracy (Loomio, Delib, GlassFrog), and the idea of liquid democracy.
This, he says, has to be done through both bottom-up and top-down efforts:
We are hence left with what appears to be a paradox of developing the systems of governance: Any centrally planned top-down effort is likely to miss out on the complexities of everyday life and be built without real contact with human needs and experiences. They tend to be large, clunky and “fragile”. rather than flexible and resilient, as economist Nassim Nicholas Taleb put it in his famous 2012 book Antifragile.
But any small-scale bottom-up effort is likely to be drowned in the already existing and more pertinent structures of society. We must hence strive for a synthesis between the two: a proper metamodern “both-and”. There must be a central planning which coordinates and strengthens a genuine multiplicity of experimental, iterative emergences, including local and private initiatives. [bold and italics in original]
To do this, Hanzi envisions a Ministry of Democratization, which would be an institution of experts responsible for funding experiments in democracy (for example, different electoral systems) within provincial and local areas inside the country (i.e., for my U.S. readers, at the state, county, city, and municipal level). This Ministry (or Department) would then collect data on how these different experiments are going and make adjustments or eject those experiments that are not working, acting as a sort of genetic algorithm, searching for the optimal forms of democracy. Such processes could be done over short periods (days, months, years) or longer periods (decades) and could take various regional/local idiosyncrasies into account.
To address problems that are rapidly becoming global in scale (climate change, information technology, and so on), the natural progression (if we maintain the status quo) is going to be toward more and more supranational governmental bodies (things like the E.U. and U.N.). And so, doing this process of rejuvenating democracy, Hanzi says, is necessary if we want to maintain democracy and avoid this sort of supranational or world technocracy.
[If we don’t do this, then] Democracy will have died the slow heat death. It will not have been killed, simply dispersed under its own entropy, being superseded in all but rhetoric by a global technocratic elite from which we can expect only very limited amount of accountability. Transparency will be lost, and for all practical purposes, democracy will be lost – globally and, for the foreseeable future, permanently.
Again: the clock is ticking. Either we begin the slow and cumbersome process of continuously reinventing and updating democracy, or it simply drifts away into space. [bold in original]
And the approach:
Where do we start? We start at the meso-level, the middle level of institutions, organizations and regional clusters of innovation (based around a “triple-helix” of companies, city administrations and universities) so often overlooked. We use the state to spur bottom-up democratic innovation, which then besieges the distant towers of patronizing state technocracy. [bold in original]
For the most part I can get behind this idea of experimentation on smaller and more local scales. It was, at least in part, the idea of a federal system of government – the so called “laboratories of democracy” that was supposed to be the United States (or, to be more grammatically correct, these United States, emphasizing that they are supposed to maintain a significant amount of independence). However, the pull of centralization put a stop to that (as did the Civil War, which was justified in the south, correctly or not, by “states’ rights” and gave the term a bad name), and in all likelihood would occur again, even under this Ministry of Democratization. Indeed, having such a ministry would likely lead to the kind of echo chamber groupthink I mentioned above, where the experiments would all be constrained within a narrow scope of how democracy ought to be since the experts populating this bureaucracy would hold biases about the way democracy should function and their opinions would regress to the mean due to noise.
A real experimentation would be in devolving powers to these provincial and local areas by reducing the power of the larger (federal) government and of the Ministry of Democratization to tell the various “laboratories” how they are to organize their democratic experiment. This is likely to be an unpopular idea, since the threat of some of these “laboratories” setting up the “wrong kind” of democracy increases. In other words, not all of them will choose something proximate to Green Social Liberalism, but might instead opt for Catholic Integralism or anarchy (of either the left or right varieties) or socialism or corporatism or whatever.
I agree with Hanzi that centralization and accumulation of power into supranational entities is likely the natural attractor, eventually leading us to a world government. I also agree with him that this is an undesirable outcome. Where I disagree is in there being all that much we can do about it. Perhaps it’s worth trying to do something about it, but the best we can do is hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
Chapter 11: Gemeinschaft Politics
The word Gemeinschaft, Hanzi explains, comes from a distinction made by German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies between Gesellschaft and Gemeinschaft. The former is, Hanzi explains, often translated into English as “society” and has to do with sort of the formal rules in which a society is structured, while the latter is translated as “community”. But, he says, community doesn’t capture well what it means, because it’s not like a neighborhood or club. It is, perhaps, more like the community one feels with and toward their fellow countrymen. He says it could also be thought of as fellowship or camaraderie. Regardless, because it doesn’t translate well, he will continue using the German word Gemeinschaft.
This is important because, as Hanzi says, most problems in the world are not due to a lack of resources.
I have already underscored that there in today’s affluent societies are almost no real material or economic problems left – pretty much none of the fundamental problems of late modern society are due to a de facto lack of economic resources. Once a postindustrial level of affluence has been achieved, with an annual per capita GDP above 25,000 US dollars, the reason people suffer is no longer because of an actual lack of material resources. The main source of society’s ailments is that people’s behaviors, psychologies and social relations don’t function properly. In late modern society, suffering is social rather than economic. [bold and italics in original]
In other words, if people were less frightened and mistrusting of each other, and if we displayed more prosocial behaviors, we wouldn’t feel the need to bolster our own safety and social status at the cost of everyone else’s.
Earlier societies were able to base their Gemeinschaft around religion, where everyone within a society had the same metaphysical and moral beliefs. When that began falling apart, things like nationalism took its place – shared languages and cultures. Now, in multicultural societies, the realm of Gemeinschaft is in what’s known as civil society. Having a strong civil society is required to keep the other two prongs of society – business and government – accountable to the people. As such, when people lose their sense of Gemeinschaft , this makes it much easier for corruption and abuse to occur in business and government. As such, having strong Gemeinschaft is fundamental to ensuring good and effective governance.
Additionally, Gemeinschaft is not something that can be engineered through the formal structures of society. Contrary to what the Chinese Communist Party may think, the government cannot order people to like and trust each other. Nor can Gemeinschaft be achieved by simply having things like constitutionally enshrined human rights, legal equality, and rule of law. Such a thing may aid in the development of Gemeinschaft, but Gemeinschaft itself has to be something much deeper, something felt deep within the people in a society.
Hanzi gives a description of the evolution of Gemeinschaft politics.
Gemeinschaft politics first arose in the public realm. As people congregated into urban areas, they had to get along. This prompted the dignity culture that we are now all living in – we treat everyone as equals and with at least a due amount of respect (e.g., we say please and thank you, we don’t cut in line, and so on); the rich could no longer abuse the poor (the noble was traded in for the gentleman, with the bourgeoisie following quick behind). The Gesellschaft politics also got involved with things like public works and welfare systems. But this all happened in the public realm, at first. There weren’t laws or taboos about, for instance, men beating their wife and kids. This was when Gemeinschaft politics entered the domestic realm. Things like women’s rights (divorce, domestic abuse laws, contraception) and the rights of children (child services, schools, labor laws), as well as healthcare and substance abuse programs, brought Gemeinschaft politics into the domestic realm. Hanzi says that the next step is to bring Gemeinschaft politics into the personal realm.
This, Hanzi says, is the ultimate form of making the personal into the political. To think we could do otherwise, he says, is the thinking of the “liberal innocent” that he argued against in the first book, and this is a false defense of freedom. He understands that this can sound creepy, mixing the personal with the political, but he says that the checks-and-balances of these six new forms of politics will help ensure that it doesn’t get creepy. And besides, he argues, it is a necessary risk we will have to take if we are to cope with what the future has in store with our ever-increasingly complex world.
This will be done, Hanzi explains, with a Ministry of Gemeinschaft. The function of this new bureaucracy is to collect and analyze huge amounts of data about people’s personal lives and interactions. It will also be charged with “to devise, implement and evaluate social innovations, practices and institutions with the aim to advance the generative conditions for Gemeinschaft throughout society.” In other words, evaluating and installing public programs to help make people more well-adjusted (“better social, emotional and collective intelligence”) and able to engage in Gemeinschaft politics. All of this will be done, Hanzi assures us, with transparency, deliberation, and input from the people.
Hanzi offers four possible programs (though he says they are merely suggestions and not a necessary part of the program):
- Measures to train emotional, social, and collective intelligence – training in things like teamwork, reading body language, understanding peoples’ motivations
- Organized community housing for families and the elderly – hybrids of private homes with shared spaces (so that people can engage in more communal living)
- Support for local citizen discussion clubs led by professional facilitators
- Making room for civil society projects in public spaces – to add public spaces among all of the commercial spaces for people to meet and carry out projects in civil society
Of these specific programs, I can see maybe the first being useful – we teach kids arithmetic and grammar, why not teach them how to not be an asshole? The second one smacks a little too much like Soviet collectivized farming, but who knows. The other two, I just picture a bunch of rickety old buildings going unused (except maybe by squatters).
As for the overall idea of a Ministry of Gemeinschaft, I think anyone can see how this could be ripe for abuse. But there is also the issue of such large databases of information being something every corporation, rogue state, and hacker would love to get their hands on. Whether sold by corrupt bureaucrats and politicians or just stolen by bad actors, the temptation would likely be too great for such a treasure trove of data to remain secure for long.
It may also be the case that life is categorically zero-sum: in order for some subset of all living things to succeed, others must fail – there is no life without a corresponding amount of death, no pleasure without a corresponding amount of suffering. In other words, the circle of life is actually a circle of death – deer must die for the wolf to live, plant life must die for the deer to live, and the wolf must die for the plants to live. Our very existence is thus at the cost of depriving some other living creature. Every calorie I eat is a calorie someone or something else does not, being lost as heat or as the work of my actions, which contribute to the suffering and death of other organisms. Every moment I live I not only consume resources, but I deny the matter and energy from which I am composed to all other things. “But by being alive, you could invent something useful that helps a lot of people or animals!” you might protest. Perhaps. But that invention will itself consume resources – material resources, mental resources, time and space – while also helping to prolong the resource consumption and hoarding of all those who are helped by the invention.
Lets assign a number, call it Φ, to the sum total of all organismal connections in the world (social, economic, political, sexual, religious, criminal, ecological, symbiotic, parasitic, etc.). We’ll call it the Gemeinschaft Coefficient. If Φ > 0 then the connections have a net positive benefit for the world, while if Φ < 0 then it has a net negative effect on the world; we can set Φ = 0 to, perhaps, the way things are right now, or to some other idealized zero point.
There may be a ceiling on Φ such that it can never go higher than a certain positive number, because more organisms or more interactions between organisms actually make things worse. Or, there might be an asymptote or logarithmic function, such that more effort to increase Gemeinschaft leads to lesser and lesser gains to the Gemeinschaft Coefficient. It may even be the case that at a certain point the slope switches sign and the Gemeinschaft Coefficient begins going back down.
In fact, it’s very likely that there would be a reduction in Φ once the average number of organismal connections exceeded a certain value, since the weight of those connections would have to decrease due to (A) restraints on cognitive bandwidth in the organisms (less empathy as all other humans and animals are made into abstractions just in order for limited minds to process everything), and (B) the fact that some interactions will necessarily be negative (interactions of, say, Ebola with humans, assuming we weight human wellbeing higher than the wellbeing of Ebola viruses). But, if we instead focus on increasing the weight of connections (making stronger, deeper, more meaningful connections) rather than sheer number of connections, then the problem of increased complexity is not to be met in the way that Hanzi envisions, as everyone acquiring more Gemeinschaft for their fellow humans and also animals – the stronger, but fewer connections will lead to in-group-out-group thinking and viewing others more abstractly.
On the other hand, the bottom for how far Φ can go below zero is quite large. Think of World War 2 on the eastern front. The human-plant interactions are highly negative, as crops are burned, forests and swamps churned up and poisoned by artillery. The human-animal interactions are greatly worsened, as habitat is ruined, horses are victimized by artillery, machine guns, and malnutrition, livestock is slaughtered to feed the army. Disease and infection became rampant, making human-pathogen interactions rise. And, obviously, human-human interactions are worsened as soldiers kill soldiers/POWs, soldiers kill civilians/partisans, civilians/partisans kill civilians/soldiers, and so on. And that’s not to mention all the feelings of hatred and mistrust this all bred. The point being, the distance that Φ can go below zero is potentially much greater than Φ can go above zero.
The upshot to this is that Gemeinschaft Politics has a high likelihood of reducing Φ rather than increasing it.
Chapter 12: Transformations of Everyday Life
The globalizing world of the past faced an unprecedented issue: the existence of numerous races and cultures. With travel and exploration beginning to take people around the globe, different cultures were running into each other, and often clashing. Hanzi says that there are four ways that people handled this, each corresponding to the different value memes of Postfaustian (nationalism), Modern (non-nationalism or “colorblind”), Postmodern (multiculturalism, or what Hanzi calls inter-culturalism), and Metamodern (trans-culturalism). He then gives a rundown of each one.
- Nationalism: defense of a sense of “our people” that is often popular among conservatives and those on the political right. Becomes dysfunctional in a truly globalized world.
- Non-Nationalism: cultural “tolerance” as long as people are “the individual” who can be a productive member of society (liberalism) or can be reduced to their “class” (communism), then their ethnicity is an epiphenomenon at most – favors cultural assimilation. Its weakness is that it fails to see that culture is important.
- Inter-Culturalism: views diversity as a good in-itself – favors cultural accommodation (leading to things like political correctness and identity politics). Leads to cultural/moral relativism, and can view a culture as a static (perhaps even sacred) thing that must be preserved (it cannot be allowed to be adulterated from outside, it should not be changed from within, and there can be no “appropriation” by other cultures).
- Trans-Culturalism: views cultures as processes and encourages the development of cultures into the best versions of themselves. This can be done by developing from within and through cultural exchange. Takes stance that, at least in the long run, all cultures need to evolve toward more universal values.
Gender relations is another area where Gemeinschaft Politics needs to be focused. Hanzi calls this “the gender-sexuality-family-formation complex.” He lists a bunch of reasons why gender and sexuality can’t be ignored, then jumps to the metamodern view of feminism that he calls post-feminism. He says of this:
Basically, the post-feminism position is one that accepts the “queer feminist” idea that gender roles change with historical circumstances and culture, and that ideas about genders and their interactions can and should continuously be critically reconstructed to optimize for new circumstances – but doesn’t buy the feminist idea that there is one “toxic” mainstream ideal of masculinity (which is pitted against the feminine underdog), and that if “patriarchy is crushed” then people will become free from gender roles and their oppression.
An effective Gemeinschaft Politics would develop people’s “gender abilities” [gender intelligence] to create and uphold healthy identities, relationships and sexual practices both through culture, psychology and biology.
Such a Gemeinschaft Politics, Hanzi says, can make us less shameful and self-conscious about our sexuality and desire, reduce “gender antagonism” (the negative ways that different genders view and/or stereotype each other), and give everyone a better understanding of the “paradoxes of [heterosexual] love” (i.e., double standards; differences in what people say they want and what they actually want; that men and women are different from each other in their sexual urges; etc.).
To me, this notion of trans-culturalism sounds like the Modern non-nationalism with extra steps. The development of cultures toward more universal values is exactly what the Modern assimilationist project aims for: you can keep all your quaint and quirky aspects of your culture, but only so long as you accept a type of humanism with universal values. Not that I’m against this – the nationalist and inter-culturalist approaches are lousy with issues of tension, conflict, and relativism. My point is, the Metamodern approach doesn’t seem like much of an upgrade to the Modern approach, simply taking an even greater incrementalist version of the Modern approach.
Chapter 13: Existential Politics
Hanzi first examines the instrumental version of rationality, which defines rationality as:
- The production and acceptance of goals and desires that seek to optimize one’s well-being
- The ability to formulate plans, means, and procedures that will most efficiently allow one to achieve those goals
He agrees with the Weberian view of rationality in saying that the second one is what can be assessed objectively, but the first is a function of people’s desires. Furthermore, these desires are largely determined by our social interactions and culture. As such, it becomes a political matter to determine which goals society and its people should strive for. The goal, he says, should be a deepening of our inner states (as discussed in the first book) and how we relate to other people. He calls this transrationality.
Existential Politics is about creating better structures to support people in the long, treacherous inner journey that is life. In the last instance, we are all alone on this path and we have to make our own choices; we have to relate to ourselves and to “what is”, to existence itself. But some ways of relating may be less productive and beneficial to ourselves and society than others – and hence nothing is more political than your innermost relation to existence. [bold in original]
To me this sounds even more chilling than Gemeinschaft Politics. It reminds me of the quote by Bernard Crick: “The attempt to politicize everything is the destruction of politics. When everything is seen as relevant to politics, then politics has in fact become totalitarian.”
And besides that, it sounds paradoxical: to some people, their innermost relation to existence, their inner journey, is predicated on keeping politics out of their sense of self (e.g., hermits). One could argue that the definition of political radicalism is in making one’s whole being about politics.
But, Hanzi says, it is already the case that our personal lives affect others in political ways and that politics shapes our inner being. Things like the media we consume are saturated with political messages and agendas and there is no “separation of church and state” when it comes to our spiritual lives. As such, he argues, it would be a good idea to have an honest conversation or discourse about what is already doing on. And so, he says:
It would thus make good sense to have a Ministry of Existential Affairs whose purpose should be to monitor, understand and affect issues pertaining to the existential foundations of everyday life – in sensitive, respectful and transparent ways, of course – so that more of us can develop fruitful ways of relating to life. [bold in original]
This bureaucracy would examine questions such as (I’m only quoting a few of the ones he lists):
- How many people honestly feel they are following their dreams?
- How many are tormented by the existential crisis that seems epidemic to early adulthood, and how seriously?
- How many of us feel a pervasive lack of meaning?
- How many people get stuck in untreated traumas, so that deep wounds are never healed and greater inner depths never fully integrated into our personalities?
To then address these problems, Hanzi proposes that we bring back the notion of via contemplativa – the path of contemplation. This is in contrast (or at least in addition to) the modern day via activa, which is the sort of practical mindset of doing work and producing things that are helpful (or perhaps entertaining). Via contemplativa is where people would have time and opportunity to reflect, meditate, and become acquainted with their inner-selves, their emotions, and the course of their life. Allowing people to gain a sense of meaning and purpose, he says, would also be a sound investment, from the “economy of happiness” point of view, since it would make us all enjoy the things that the economy has to offer more (i.e., perhaps a way of “stimulating demand” for aesthetic aspects of the economy).
To do this, Hanzi envisions things like allowing people to take extended periods of time (6-12 months) off a few times during life for a sort of guided retreat of “practice, learning, contemplation and self-scrutiny.” He also proposes making available counselors to help people through times of grief and crisis.
None of these suggestions sound too offensive to me, at least in principle. In the United States, much of our public health has been outsourced to the criminal justice system. Exchanging a portion of police officers and prison guards for social workers and therapists would probably be more humane and cost effective. And, as someone whose personal constitution is more via contemplativa than via activa, I am probably biased in favor of such a thing.
My criticism here is that I think a lot of these kinds of issues to be addressed by Existential Politics have arisen because of the bureaucratization, or rationalization, of our lives. This kind of meaning-making is probably best handled at a local, communal, familial, and personal level.
Chapter 14: The Awakened Public
This sort of “finding oneself” can occur in what Hanzi calls secular monasteries. These are places where people can go to find emotional/spiritual help (from “existential social workers”), to retreat, or to find community. He says that the question isn’t about whether we could ever afford to do this – setting up public places, hiring the specialists, and letting people take long stretches of time off work while still being given what is needed to live – but whether we can afford not to do it. The sorts of alienation, trauma, and loss of meaning that is rampant in many Western countries could lead to societal disintegration and breakdown. And so all this new-agey sounding meditation and self-reflection isn’t navel-gazing, he argues:
Existential Politics isn’t navel-gazing. Things are only navel-gazing if they are not conducive to growth and social change. If something does prevent oceans of human suffering, improves lives in so many ways, and saves society from collapse because it spurs human growth into deeper maturity – then it’s not navel-gazing.
This needs to be done publicly, Hanzi argues, because the current privatized version of existential development encounters several problems:
- It’s only available to those who are well off, when it’s the not-so-well-off who need it most
- People view it as idle and self-indulgent, but people need to see how helpful (perhaps even necessary) it is
- There is no standard of quality and reliability, opening things up to hucksters and quacks
What would occur in these secular monasteries? Hanzi envisions people learning how to properly meditate; how to organize, cohere, and integrate our own thoughts (root out contradictions, discrepancies, and cognitive dissonances); learn to grapple with the mortality of ourselves and love ones; and how to cope with mental health issues.
Of course, my usual objections apply: who gets to decide what a healthy inner life is? What are the unintended consequences if this works? How do we know we won’t end up with a bunch of vacant buildings where these secular monasteries are built (i.e., nobody buys into this)? Additionally, all the ways that such an enterprise could be abused or corrupted.
Again, my criticisms shouldn’t be construed as me saying there isn’t a problem here, or that the way things are is good. That this is a problem is something I harp on a lot around here. My issue is that things could very easily get much worse very fast. I understand that things are going to get worse if we do nothing. Our society will continue to grow in complexity, people will grow more alienated, the environment will continue crumbling, and in a desperate search for meaning people will be pulled into radical forms of politics as a poor substitute for that God-shaped void within us all. But I have a difficult time believing that a program like this will offer much help, and is likely a new avenue for corruption and abuse. I hope I’m wrong, because I do recognize the gravity of our current predicament, but I don’t believe that I am.
There is also the chance that, when given time for meditation and self-reflection, along with reaching higher MHC Stages and greater Depth, that people will come to a very difficult conclusion: that life is in fact not worth living. Upon a greater understanding of the question Camus says is the most important of all philosophical questions, people might begin to realize that it is impossible to reconcile the human need for purpose with the purposelessness of existence – that suicide is the only rational, and perhaps even moral, choice.
Chapter 15: Emancipation Politics
Hanzi is very aware that, with all these new forms of politics, new kinds of oppression can rear its ugly head. He specifically says, for instance, that because of all the data gathered on people throughout their lives, people might predict that a person will end up a criminal and therefore be treated as such before they ever do anything wrong; or if people are just not into the self-learning or becoming involved in political fora, but feel social pressure to do so; or if people feel smothered at work, but don’t have the economic means to make a change.
He also understands that there could be a “neutralization and drift” within the various new bureaucracies: it’s where a person rationalizes or “neutralizes” away the negative feelings of doing something slightly bad, then “drift” on to something a little worse, which they “neutralize” and “drift” to something even worse, and so on. In this way, even well-meaning bureaucrats, who are collecting and handling all our data, might end up engaging in unethical behaviors – in other words, corruption, abuse, and perhaps even “drifting” into totalitarianism.
Hanzi reiterates the differences between negative and positive rights, or the right from and the right to. Some examples:
Negative Rights: things others (including the government) can’t do to you
- Force you into a religion
- Prevent you from speaking
- Prevent you from associating with who you want
- Throw you in prison for no reason
Positive Rights: also called Social Rights or Entitlements
- Employment (or to be not employed)
The former are often the kinds of rights people think of as defining freedom – a country that doesn’t uphold the former but does uphold the latter would likely get rated as unfree by Freedom House; a country that does uphold the former but not the latter would likely be rated as free by Freedom House.
And so Hanzi gives the following outline:
a) as society’s complexity increases,
b) this also creates pressures to increase the reach and density of governance,
c) and this creates new sources of oppression (both the increased complexity of society at large and the new layers of governance),
d) and this creates an increased need to expand negative human rights and freedoms, i.e. the right not to be subjected to a host of new oppressions,
e) and as these new negative must be of a subtler and more abstract nature, they will be harder to define, defend and make sound and socially sustainable,
f) which thus makes necessary and ongoing political process through which information is gathered, rights and obligations are perpetually discussed and tested, and new institutions are created in order to defend people against new forms of oppression.
Where f) is Emancipation Politics, run by a Ministry of Emancipation, whose duties are:
All forms of oppression that people experience in their lives would be gathered as data and analyzed. There would be public discussions about the interpretation of these data, and there would be an ongoing debate about what can be done to defend people, according to what rights. Human rights will no longer be enshrined and taken as religious absolutes, but be recognized for the social constructions and social deals they really are. What rights do you have, and whose obligation is it to uphold these rights, and under what circumstances? This will become an ongoing and central discussion in metamodern society.
And so, instead of having static rights that must be interpreted and reinterpreted as new contexts arise, we would instead be both reinterpreting and redesigning rights to fit with the new contexts. This will be done, Hanzi envisions, through public discourse and using data gathered by the Ministry of Emancipation.
Defense against oppression can be both direct and indirect. Direct is what we think of as the judiciary, where instances of oppression can be adjudicated by some kind of mediator (a judge, a tribunal, etc.). Indirect is through policy – regulations and governmental practices.
The four types of oppression that Hanzi identifies are:
- Oppression by State/Market Forces – the kind of oppression most people think of, where the state or a powerful corporation infringes on your (usually negative) rights. He also says, though, that this can be the oppression of the state itself, reducing the state’s ability to carry out its proper functions.
- Cultural Oppression – essentially bigotry
- Mean People – bullies and social saboteurs
- Inner Oppression – inner turmoil can lead us to be easily manipulated; internalized oppression can lead us to hate ourselves and prevent us from reaching our full potential
My critique: blah blah corruption and abuse blah blah blah.
But even if we assume a manageable level of corruption and abuse, this sounds like it would be an even messier, clunkier, and slower way of doing things than what we already have. The number of ways people can make themselves into the victim of something is practically endless. One of two things will likely happen: (1) most people have their complaints ignored just because the sheer volume of them would be staggering, which would lead to a loss of legitimacy for this Ministry of Emancipation, or (2) the Ministry of Emancipation would become overly bloated from having to deal with all the mutually contradictory complaints and requests, the legal and regulatory regimes would become a Kafkaesque labyrinthine nightmare, and all the various rulings and reinterpretations of rights would effectively neuter them.
Chapter 16: Empirical Politics
Empirical politics is succinctly summed up this way:
The core issue of Empirical Politics is how to optimize the process of getting the best possible empirical knowledge and to get all parts of society to commit to using that knowledge. And that, my suspicious friend, is far from a no-brainer.
You got that right. The answer is apparently to get everyone agree on what’s true and then to overcome tons upon tons of institutional inertia to have agreed upon solutions implemented. Who would have thunk? Certainly not a no-brainer.
Hanzi recognizes that we live in a very irrational and unscientific society. We also have the problem of testimony – most of us get our facts from sources as opposed to verifying things for ourselves. And so, guided by our biases and political ideas, we believe the sources that tell us what we want to hear and disbelieve the ones that say otherwise. And even the people who do believe the science of, say, human-caused climate change, will often do very little to modify their own habits or to demand action from their government.
The solution: The Ministry of Empirical Politics (and yes, Hanzi does know that this sounds a shade close to Orwell’s Ministry of Truth). This will address the following ten issues (and remember that here science includes both the physical and the social sciences, and even the humanities where applicable):
- It would “…evaluate, survey, rate and publicize the degree of evidence-based practice in all areas of public sector work and civil service.” i.e., education, healthcare, policing, environmental protection, and so on.
- Find out how to make the sciences more robust and efficient
- Study the philosophy, ethics, and sociology of science in order to determine what norms and biases are present, where politics and economic interests might be influencing things
- Increase interdisciplinary communication and collaboration (within the sciences and between science and industry, science and government)
- Train the general population to think critically and recognize their own cognitive biases
- More fact-checking, and even rating politicians and media distributors for their factuality (maybe every time a politician is mentioned in the news, they say “so-and-so, who has a factuality-rating of 3, has said…” or something like that)
- Develop political culture so we value the intelligent bean-counters over the charismatic media-darlings
- Make sure our entertainment portrays things factually, since movies and TV shows shape our sense of reality [this is entering extremely dangerous territory]
- Make language more precise [boy does this smack of Newspeak]
- Support people’s ontological security
Or, to sum it up:
The point is to gradually increase society’s capacity for information processing and event prediction by developing our collective capacity for intersubjective crosschecking. [bold and italics in original]
Again, I have no disagreements here in principle. It would be amazing if people were more interested in the truth than in furthering an agenda or feeling the comfort of having their biases confirmed. It would be awesome if science was more efficient, more robust, and cared more about being replicability, reproducibility, and rigor, than in flashy discoveries. It would be fantastic if government policy was based on facts instead of feelings. But this Ministry of Empirical Politics, in some ways, already exists in many countries. For instance, the U.S. has places like the Congressional Budget Office, the Department of Energy, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, and so on. And, just like with these departments, a Ministry of Empirical Politics is not going to be immune to political tampering, corruption, abuse, all that good stuff.
Chapter 17: Politics of Theory
Hanzi says that Politics of Theory is the politics of brainwashing, but insists this is more benign than it sounds. He says:
So the question, then, is not “should we have massive and extensive brainwashing of millions?” – we already do, and we probably must: Modern society relies upon an educational system, and all societies rely upon shared narratives and intricate coordination of people’s perspectives and streams-of-action.
Rather, the question is, “should this underlying theory of everything be brought under continuous, explicit, democratic scrutiny, or should it remain beyond our reach in terms of democratic governance?” [bold in original]
He says, in fact, that by not having the brainwashing, which inevitably and necessarily occurs, out in the open for democratic discussion, is the true authoritarianism. That this is “precluding” discussion about what sorts of brainwashing people receive. That by leaving things as the status quo, we are allowing people to be brainwashed with provincial customs and parochial traditions and notions of commonsense that are not concerned with what is true, but with what earns social/cultural capital in one’s quaint little hamlet.
This, of course, is not the way things are. There is constant discussion, debate, and even venomous argument about what people ought to believe and how they ought to live their lives. This simply happens in civil society, largely without government coordination. So, what Hanzi is really calling for is to make these discussions more institutionalized, with narrower scopes of what the allowed premises for such discourse are.
I’m not necessarily disagreeing with him in principle, that of people being more truth-oriented in their beliefs, isn’t a valid goal. I’m not even disagreeing that institutionalizing this enterprise wouldn’t, in principle, be an effective way of bringing this about. But blah blah corruption and abuse blah blah blah. Furthermore, who gets to choose the truth? And who chooses the choosers? In either case, I assume Hanzi thinks it would be “democratic”, but that poses it’s own problems: the people, the demos of democracy, isn’t necessarily going to choose the confines of the debate that you want.
Hanzi anticipates this. He thinks that the institutional forum of debate on this, with controlled parameters of discourse, will allow for a sort of synthesis (he calls it diffraction) of all the different ideas to be implemented. I envy his optimism. I see such a thing going one of two ways: (1) the debate only becomes more heated, the different sides balkanizing, and the entire project falling apart, or (2) the facilitators of this institution – this Ministry of Theory – making some executive decisions to eject certain camps and disallow certain viewpoints (in the name of efficiency and keeping the peace – see Twitter and Facebook for how that goes), causing the Ministry of Theory to lose much of its legitimacy (especially among the spurned parties) and only leading to greater conflict, possibly even violence.
This is all also predicated on the idea that humans could ever shape their culture to fit the world we have created for ourselves. Let’s say that this democratic process is functional enough to maintain legitimacy and actually come to some agreements. Hanzi says that there are no conclusions, as the process is never finished, and so any decisions are provisional, open for further modification and updating as things change.
Let’s set aside for a moment that things could easily change in some horrible direction (or that the conclusion people would come to is to jettison the entire metamodern program altogether) – what makes us believe that we can shape and restructure our narratives fast enough to keep up with the accelerating pace of technological change? It may be that as soon as even some provisional decision is made on, say, what sorts of ethics humans would want our artificial intelligence to align with, that it’s not already too late? Or that we chose wrong and the AI is created while within that paradigm? Or what about our societal ethics about gain-of-function research – what if we come to a decision too late? Or we come to the wrong one (e.g., it turned out we needed it to prevent some future pandemic, or that we shouldn’t have done it because it created that future pandemic)?
I’m not making these “what if?” hypotheticals as real questions about how these particular instances ought to be handled. The whole problem is we don’t know how to handle them. This is more a rhetorical question meant to get at the bigger question: what if the increasing, accelerating complexity of our society will outpace our social engineering of the culture? The complexity itself acts as an inhibitor to the very process of social engineering – as the increase in complexity accelerates, the rate at which we can engineer our society decreases.
Of course, more totalitarian measures might be proposed – a social credit system, perhaps. But if it came down to the choice to strangle human civilization to death with the petroleum-stained hands of our own stupidity or having to live in that dystopian nightmare, I would choose the former.
One of the places where Hanzi suggests that such brainwashing measures should be taken is with the way that history is taught. He says that Modernism focuses too much on nation-states and Postmodernism is too concerned with minutiae and deconstructing the approach of Modernism. The Metamodern approach, he says, would be that of Big History.
I don’t find anything too offensive about this (and current historical pedagogy often leaves much to be desired), but I think it would have the disadvantage that it’s narrative is too broad. People like characters, agency, people making decisions that lead to consequences. It’s why we watch movies and TV shows, read novels and comic books – we like stories about other people. The idea of Big History is to de-center humans – to make it less anthropocentric – but that cuts out what most people find interesting and compelling about history. This approach would potentially make people lose interest much quicker, which might defeat the purpose of teaching in this way.
Chapter 18: The Master Plan
Hanzi begins by positing a Hegelian/Baradian dialectic between society (the object) and the person (the subject), where both of them create each other – people make society, but are also made by society. He says that society is becoming Metamodern, and therefore the people must become Metamodern if we are to resonate with society (something I’ve written about before). If society is Metamodern while people are stuck in a Modern mindset, then we have dissonance instead of resonance.
This resonance, Hanzi says, can be accomplished with his six new types of politics – the six of which resonate with each other as well (i.e., you need all six of them for it to work – for it not to be dissonant). This means that, like any one of the three branches of government (executive, legislative, judiciary) would be a recipe for disaster without the others to balance it out, each one of the six new politics could also lead to disaster (perhaps in the ways that I have written about above) without having all six operating at the same time.
Also, Hanzi exhorts us to remember that these six forms of politics are not static entities, but processes of development, often working against each other, in tension as they keep each other in check, while also reinforcing one another.
Furthermore, there is a semiotics to The Master Pattern:
[A]n important and recurring theme within semiotics is the study of 1st, 2nd and 3rd person perspectives: I, you, he/she/it. That’s the important part here.
I claim there is an inherent semiotic structure to the master pattern that unveils a logic for why it must be this particular pattern of interrelated political processes that emerge together.
Take a look at this:
- Existential Politics develops the relationship of me to myself, my subjective inner world, the relationship between 1st person and 1st person.
- Gemeinschaft Politics develops the relationship between us and us, between people in general, relating to another as a “you”, in 2nd person.
- Democratization Politics develops the relationship of the single “me” to society, to all other people, empowering my participation and so forth..
- Emancipation Politics develops the relation of society to me, of how I have the right to be treated or not treated by society as a whole, by all of you.
- Empirical Politics puts 3rd person constraints upon what forms of relations can be had between self and society (all of the four above relations between 1st and 2nd person); it is thus the relationship between 3rd person reality and the self/society relation.
- Politics of Theory develops the relationship of self/society to reality as a whole, i.e. to reality in 3rd person. It is thus the relationship of all the first four processes (1st and 2nd person) to a commonly constructed 3rd person view.
[bold and italics in original; I have here combined the list and the schema that Hanzi provides on pages 342&343]
Putting these things in motion will be done, Hanzi says, by the metamodern aristocracy and the process-oriented party, both of which were discussed in the first book.
How this happens is: the party enters the political scene, marshaling the metamodern aristocracy, who are the goodest boys and girls. Because this process party is so unimpeachably virtuous, it will be the least hated, but not necessarily one that will win the most votes. The enlightened and exemplary conduct of the process party will force all the other profane political parties to behave while exposed to its illustrious radiance. And so, when Democratization Politics is first proposed by the esteemed process party, this noble idea will be quickly appropriated by all the other vulgar, opportunistic parties, who simply cannot restrain themselves from plundering such ineluctable prizes – they have therefore been hoodwinked into enacting the first step towards the metamodern ambition through their own contemptuous cynicism. The dutiful process party then forwards Gemeinschaft Politics, which is also quickly pilfered by the other depraved parties. Then the same for Existential Politics, then Emancipation Politics, then Empirical Politics. It’s during all this that the righteous and irreproachable process party is making its long march through the institutions, laying a benevolent trap so that when the moment arrives for Politics of Theory, the righteous process party finally emerges victorious.
Hanzi then extols on the brilliance of this plan (a plan discovered by, or revealed to, him, not created) before discussing about how other groups (micro-movements) that already exist but who only focus on a single one of these consubstantial hypostases composing this Holy Sexternity are not failures for failing. This is because they are laying the groundwork for the true incarnation of the full hypostatic union of the six new forms of politics. The trick will be to coordinate these lesser entities into a coherent and united vanguard.
Hanzi then addresses some potential questions that may arise:
- Isn’t this whole project overly statist (i.e., giving the government too much power)? No, he says, because it doesn’t necessarily have to be carried out by the state, so long as wherever it is being done focuses on his six new forms of politics.
- What about climate change? Hanzi says that even an incomplete or newly emerging metamodern politics will be more well-equipped to deal with problems like climate change (or AI, or nanotechnology) than the current form(s) of politics
- Isn’t this project very elitist? Yes, he says shamelessly. It has to be. But, he thinks there will be enough highly-developed people involved that they can check the worst excesses of each others’ bullshit.
- Maybe this works for the Nordic countries, but what about the U.S.? Even if the U.S. federal government is hopelessly mired in corruption and held down by institutional inertia, Hanzi thinks that metamodernists in the U.S. could take a more global view (help bring his six new forms of politics to other countries that are readier for it) or institute it in more local governments (he specifically names Boulder, Colorado and San Fransisco, California as potential places where it could work).
- What about china? Hanzi isn’t so optimistic about China. He thinks that maybe some of the people within the government who claim that China is democratic might sort of fake it until they make it. He says that maybe if plenty of other countries in the world adopt metamodernism that this would inspire China to do so as well.
- What about the economy? He refers you to a future Hanzi book Outcompeting Capitalism. You can see some of that here.
He then gives a brief recap of what he talked about in Part 2 of this book.
I think Hanzi’s answers to questions 4 and 5 above offer the greatest rebuke of his metamodern project. For better or worse, either the U.S. or China is likely to be the political, economic, military, and cultural hegemon in the coming decades. As such, they will largely dictate the tenor of the discussion about how politics will evolve. If neither of them are on board, it will make the metamodern project all the more difficult.
I don’t disagree with Hanzi on much here in principle. I agree that something has to be done if the future isn’t going to be an absolute nightmare. And all of the things he wants to address are certainly things that need to be addressed – I think most people would agree to some degree with the aims of all six of his forms of politics, just perhaps not how Hanzi proposes we attain them or what shape those solutions will take.
I am, however, skeptical that these proposals will get us where Hanzi thinks they will. Not because I have my own pet theory as to how we ought to do it. I don’t. I am convinced that human society has reached a place where it will be impossible for any single genius or committee of geniuses to fix it. Even if we established institutions capable of acquiring all the data relevant for these six forms of politics to properly function, there is then the issue of how to analyze and interpret the data. Much of that will likely be offloaded to computers – algorithms and artificial intelligences. But, even if we are able to design algorithms and AI’s not only capable of such a feat, but also of doing it in way that the majority of people find agreeable (or at least inoffensive), then there is the question of implementation, which is yet another step where corruption and abuse can emerge.
In the end, my primary concerns are the logistics and the avoidance of corruption, abuse, and totalitarianism. Predicting how much of these issues will arise is somewhat subjective. Hanzi thinks that his hexagonal network of checks-and-balances will reduce the occurrences of corruption and abuse and help prevent totalitarianism. This does, however, require all six of them be implemented, and in the right order with minimal delay before their establishment (the order is what I put it in the above “this is how it happens” – Democratization Politics, Gemeinschaft Politics, Existential Politics, Emancipation Politics, Empirical Politics, and then Politics of Theory). This adds yet another place where, if we assume that if Hanzi’s plan actually works, then we end up with healthy metamodern politics, more chances of things going wrong could arise (one or more of the six politics types arises out of order, one or more is left out, one or more is incorrectly established, etc.).
Let’s say, for Democratization Politics, the probability of successful implementation is given by:
Where De = successful establishment of Democratization Politics, Od = other parties taking up the cause of Democratization Politics from the process party in the way Hanzi describes, and Cd is Democratization Politics being established correctly (i.e., not in a “flattened” or corrupted way), and Fi is the probably that it is taken up first. What we need to figure out, then is what these probabilities are. We can then do the same for the other five:
Where Ge = successful establishment of Gemeinschaft Politics; Se = probably that it is taken up second
Where Ex = successful establishment of Existential Politics; Td = probably that it is taken up third
Where Em = successful establishment of Emancipation Politics; Fo = probably that it is taken up fourth
Where El = successful establishment of Empirical Politics; Ft = probably that it is taken up fifth
Where Th = successful establishment of Politics of Theory; Sx = probably that it is taken up sixth
We thus end up with:
I’m sure others could find other dependencies than the O’s, C’s, and order of adoption as well. It might also be argued that the order isn’t all that important; if that’s the case, we could just set the probability for those high, perhaps even at 1. For the sake of argument, I will grant that the order is completely arbitrary so that:
P(Fi) = P(Se) = P(Td) = P(Fo) = P(Ft) = P(Sx) = 1
Either way, the O variables represents essentially that Hanzi’s plan actually works as it should, that other political parties, for whatever reason, take up the form of politics into their platform. The C variables are that this results in a correct implementation (with whatever criteria for correct one may wish to use). This is also assuming that the correct implementation will be long-lasting, i.e., if the O and C variable for that form of politics actually succeeds, then that form of politics will remain with an acceptable level of corruption and abuse (this assumption, I think, is being incredibly charitable). I am also going to be viewing this from a primarily U.S. point of view, since that is what I’m most familiar with; I think it’s also where it is one of the more important places where metamodernism would have to take hold to be successful. I will also assume that the probability of successful establishment is high given that other parties pick it up and it is correctly instituted (I will give them all a probability of 0.95 on that account). With all that said, let’s look at each in turn.
Democratization Politics is probably one of the forms that is most likely to be taken up. In other words, I would put P(Od) as fairly high. I think both U.S. parties, the Democrats and Republicans, have growing portions of their constituents who are fed up with how things are (it’s what gave us Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders). As such, they might be fertile ground for Democratization Politics. But, I think the disillusioned cohort in both parties have what Hanzi would call Modern and Postmodern mindsets, for the Republican and Democrats respectively. As such, P(Cd) is likely to be quite low. I might give Democratization Politics the following:
P(De|Od&Cd)P(Od)P(Cd) = 0.95 x 0.9 x 0.3 = 0.2565
Gemeinschaft Politics is going to be a harder sell overall (given differences of opinion), yet I think both the Democrats and Republicans are attempting different flavors of this, particularly the Democrats. And, given that the political left has captured most of the institutions – universities, media, bureaucracies – it is most likely to succeed in attaining its Gemeinschaft Politics goals. As such, I will put P(Og) high. But, since the form of Gemeinschaft Politics that the left is interested in is toxic and pernicious (and because it raises such ire for so many people), I will have to rank P(Cg) quite low. And so, I will give Gemeinschaft Politics the following:
P(Ge|Og&Cg)P(Og)P(Cg) = 0.95 x 0.95 x 0.1 = 0.09025
Existential Politics is going to be an even harder sell in the U.S. A lot of the working class and the poor will likely view it the way Hanzi fears: as a sort of foo-foo soy-boy idle waste of time. And the fact that the elitist city people are into it will make it appear all the less appealing to the salt-of-the-earth types. As such, I will have to put P(Ox) somewhat lower. Since this touches on areas of life that are very close to people, I think its implementation (should it actually be picked up) is going to be extremely contentious; the potential for bungling it is quite high, and so P(Cx) is also pretty low. I will give it:
P(Ex|Ox&Cx)P(Ox)P(Cx) = 0.95 x 0.5 x 0.5 = 0.2375
Emancipation Politics I think is one that a lot of people will be into, but will likely have vastly differing views of what this looks like – those to the right and the center left will see it as being more like upholding the Constitution while those on the far left will see it as constitutionally establishing their Critical Theories (such as Ibram X. Kendi’s Department of Antiracism). As such, I would put P(Om) fairly high but P(Cm) quite low. I will give it:
P(Em|Om&Cm)P(Om)P(Cm) = 0.95 x 0.8 x 0.2 = 0.152
Empirical Politics is one that I don’t see being picked up that easily for two reasons: (1) it mostly already exists, regardless of how imperfectly, and (2) both politicians and the population are unlikely to want more data collection and more algorithms and AI’s examining their every move. As such, I think P(Ol) is going to be fairly low. I also think that, if the politicians do implement it, it will be quite different than what Hanzi foresees – it will likely be in the service of a panopticon surveillance state. And so P(Cl) is also low. I give it:
P(El|Ol&Cl)P(Ol)P(Cl) = 0.95 x 0.35 x 0.35 = 0.116375
Politics of Theory is going to be the worst one, I think, in both adoption and correct implementation. The “department of brainwashing” is going to have a lot of pushback, and the benefits of it are somewhat more abstract and difficult for people to understand. I think it has a high likelihood for abuse, but even if not abused, its project is somewhat more mercurial and therefore likely to not accomplish the goals Hanzi has set out for it. I will give it
P(Th|Oh&Ch)P(Oh)P(Ch) = 0.95 x 0.1 x 0.1 = 0.0095
This gives us a full probability of:
0.2565 x 0.09025 x 0.2375 x 0.152 x 0.116375 x 0.0095 = 0.0000009239
0.00009239% chance of succeeding.
That’s a roughly 1 in a million chance of succeeding. This exercise is, of course, very subjective, and will be dependent on the social and political context of the country – someone more optimistic, and living in a country readier for such a program (like, say, Sweden), would probably rate these much higher. But, even if we give everything 0.99 chances of succeeding, we get up to an overall 83% chance of succeeding; if we do 0.95 for all, we get a 40% overall chance of succeeding.
The point being, even an optimistic take on this doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence, especially given how bad an unsuccessful implementation could be. Of course, this doesn’t tell us anything about what we would actually get from a successful implementation of the entire project – it may be the case that metamodernism is the wrong path forward, or that we’re too late to fix the kinds of problems it seeks to resolve. The above exercise tells us only a rough probability that implementation would succeed, not that a successful implementation would succeed in its aims.
We would also want to compare these probabilities with those of other potential programs, both of the old school kind (socialism, libertarianism, fascism, ecologism, anarchism, etc.) and newer kind (integralism, supranational technocracy), in order to see which one has a better chance at successful implementation. We might weight each one, then, with how probable we think they are to actually solve the problems of alienation among the populace, increasing complexity and globalization, climate change, advancing technology, and other such hyperobjects. We would want to include the sort of “null hypothesis” of doing business as usual in this as well, which would obviously have a high percent chance of being successfully implemented, maybe even a probability of 1, but likely a dismal chance of solving the above mentioned problems.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on Part 2 of Nordic Ideology. Another post will be forthcoming on Part 3 of this book.