Demotism and lies

North Korea is demotic.  The US is demotic.  North Korea murders large numbers of people.  The US does not.  Scott Alexander argues, therefore, that the word demotic is not meaningful, in that it lumps unlike things together.

The North Korean regime is based on lies, since it claims its right to rule comes from the will of the people.  Therefore, the North Korean regime needs an elaborate apparatus of thought control.

The US regime is based on lies, since it claims its right to rule comes from the will of the people.  Therefore, the US regime needs an elaborate apparatus of thought control, and, as the US goes ever further left, that apparatus becomes ever more oppressive.

The Dubai regime is based on an obvious truth: that Dubai is a monarchy, and that his Highness Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is the rightful monarch.

Moldbug argues that to avoid an oppressive apparatus of thought control, we need a strong government.  The problem with this solution is that there are no strong governments.  There is no ring of Fnargl.  Government is an illusion. We are always in anarchy, and never in anarchy.  Most systems can be usefully analyzed as variations of anarcho capitalism, or as dysfunctions or malfunctions of anarcho capitalism.  Since Anarcho capitalism must always have some degree of malfunction, Anarcho Capitalism can never exist.  Since there is no Ring of Fnargl that magically guarantees that the rulers can reliably win, Anarcho Capitalism always exists.

Moldbug blames the evil of the modern state on insecurity of power. His solution is security of power. I don’t believe it.

The state suppresses speech because it fears overthrow. But who fears truth? In the private everyday world, who fears truth? Who wants to hide the truth from everyone else?

It is the criminal who needs to hide. The honest of course also need to hide certain things like the location of their buried treasure, but they need to hide from the criminal. The evil needs to hide much more than the good, at least on the small scale. The good needs to hide its treasures. The evil needs to hide its crimes.

It is the evil states that need to control speech more strictly.

Democracy adds a wrinkle to this because the mass voters need to be controlled. But the Soviet Union was not a democracy. And still it suppressed speech.

Pharisees tend to be evil in the way depicted by Jesus, because their power is based on lies.

So pharisaic regimes are evil, and are exceptionally motivated to conceal their evil, hence exceptionally motivated to control speech, to intrusively inject their power into everyday life, thereby smashing capitalism and causing science and technology to stagnate.

Consider the Soviet Empire.  When they claimed that the liquidation of the kulaks was class warfare by oppressed lower peasants against rich peasants, they were not trying to conceal the truth from the peasants, who knew perfectly well the party was making war on the peasants. Rather, they were concealing the truth from each other and from themselves.

The obvious difference between North Korea and Dubai is not that one ruler is more secure than the other, though someone who calls himself Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum sounds a lot more secure than someone who calls himself Kim.

The obvious difference is that North Korea even more demotic than the USA, while Dubai is an old fashioned monarchy.  Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum claims Dubai is a monarchy, and it obviously is.  Kim claims that North Korea is highly democratic, and it obviously is not.  Kim’s authority rests on a blatant lie, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s authority rests on an obvious truth.

So Kim needs a massive apparatus of thought control, while Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum merely needs to look and sound like the King he was born to be.

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43 Responses to “Demotism and lies”

  1. Red says:

    Great post.

    “The state suppresses speech because it fears overthrow. But who fears truth? In the private everyday world, who fears truth? Who wants to hide the truth from everyone else?”

    Everyone I know fears the truth in their private lives. We all want to live delusion that we are something more/better/greater/more powerful than we actually are and most people become extreamlly hostile when you’re blunt and honest with them. I used to think that was just human nature but I wonder now if we haven’t been indoctrinated into it to make it easier to believe the state’s lies.

    • Candide III says:

      No, it really is human nature. The state just reuses this fundamental mechanism. Nobody likes the straight mirror, although some may appreciate it from time to time. Pushkin made the Poet say in “The Hero”,

      Oh, cursed be the light of truth,
      when it idly panders to the envious,
      easily led to temptation, cold mediocrity!
      No! Ennobling deception is dearer to me
      than myriad lowly verities.

  2. spandrell says:

    Great post.

    I wouldn’t scoff at little Kim tho. The Joseon Dynasty was headed by a bandit named Li and it lasted 500 years. Heritage is overrated.

    • Candide III says:

      Both the Chinese and European history is also full of such examples. Weren’t Liu Bang and Romulus basically bandits?

      • spandrell says:

        Liu Bang was neighborhood patrol officer in his hometown. He only became a bandit forced by the tiranny of the evil Qin, you know.

        • Candide III says:

          Oh. Anyway, he was a peasant. No monarchical heritage.

          • jim says:

            Not exactly a peasant. He was escorting a bunch of convicts to perform slave labor, which implies he was an officer of the state in command of some armed men. Some of the convicts escaped, for which he would have been executed. So, he was forced to rebel.

            In the Soviet Union, we frequently saw army officers, armed, surrounded by armed men loyal to them, located in places very far from Moscow, places where the local peasants loathed Moscow, summoned to Moscow to face torture and death, and off they loyally went. I always wondered why. I suppose that they genuinely believed in communism.

  3. Erik says:

    I think you meant to link to some part of the Anti-Reactionary FAQ, not to Scott’s response to some SJW.

    • jim says:

      In his response, he pats himself on the back for demolishing reactionary arguments by rejecting the word “demotic” as meaningless. Standard progressive line of argumentation: Censor language itself to make politically incorrect thoughts unthinkable, as described by Orwell. See also “slut”. Oh, no one can say slut because that would imply that it is wrong for females to behave in ways that destroy their children’s lives and prevent them from getting married or destroy their marriages and their husband’s lives.

      • Congo Sam says:

        What does “demotic” mean in your posts? I’m familiar with the word, but not in the opaque special sense in which you use it. It seems to mean something other than “colloquial” or “of the people”, when you use it, and nobody on earth is going to read your entire archives just to find out.

        Millman’s an idiot, but he’s got a point about that one thing.

        • jim says:

          Demotic: of the common people.
          Demotism: rule by the common people, covering both democracy with universal franchise, and regimes such as Hitler’s that with varying degrees of plausibility claim to incarnate the common people.

          Different from a democracy where only the better people are allowed to vote.

          Since the common people, like the worker’s Soviets, are incapable of ruling, in practice means something like Soviet Republic, thus whenever used of political systems, refers to a lie.

          A republic with a very restricted franchise somewhat approximates aristocracy, rule by the best, but aristocratic regimes are apt to be anarchic unless the King is strong enough to keep them in order, which he usually is not. Note that the term “Anarchy” was originally coined to refer to Antigone’s belief that aristocrats like herself should obey law and custom, but not necessarily the King. This is reasonable, since the better people are, the less government they need, so if an aristocratic regime really is composed of the best people (not always the case), near anarchy should work for them.

          Conversely, a demotic regime is going to need a lot of government, which grates upon the best people.

  4. Andy says:

    “The US regime is based on lies, since it claims its right to rule comes from the will of the people.”

    And yet those same people turn lies into truth, by believing enough in the Constitution that it’s a foundation of legitimacy. “Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum” is the sheik because most of Dubai’s population who matter agree that he’s the sheik, and if they decide he’s not worth their allegiance, he becomes a guy who claims to be king. Just like Gaddafi claiming “You love me! I’m your father figure!” right before being tortured and shot by pissed-off Libyans.

    Monarchies don’t have visible elections, but I like to think most countries, despotic or democratic (I will NOT use that utterly silly and meaningless “demotic” term that Reactionaries are so in love with) have an invisible election every day. Every day that a large enough majority of citizens say “I don’t want to overthrow the government today,” the government won the invisible referendum. For that day.

    Here in the US, the Constitution is pretty near a sacred document. It has an incredible degree of legitimacy with some people – notice how many political arguments include a question of whether something can pass Constitutional muster. Though it hasn’t always been that popular – before the Civil War, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison publicly burned a copy of the Constitution, calling it a “covenant with death.”

    And you seem to imply that legitimacy is a function of appearances, whereas I feel that legitimacy is a function of fulfilled desires. Go up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (where things on the bottom of the pyramid, like food and shelter, have to be fulfilled before you get to the higher bits. And I think that’s a useful frame of reference for talking about a whole society.

    Here’s a piece from 2004 about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and nation-building in Iraq:
    http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2004/12/legitimacy_101.html

    Kim needs an elaborate regime of thought control because *his people are starving.* North Korea’s economy has been a shambles for decades. If the North Korean people knew how well their neighbors in South Korea were living (an actual democracy, not a fake “we’re totally democratic!” democracy) Kim wouldn’t last very long, so he needs an elaborate system of thought control just to stay alive.

    And that brings me to Dubai. You claim that Sheikh Al Maktoum “merely needs to look and sound like the King he was born to be.” This miiiiiiight just be a function of a satisfied populace sitting on top of enormously valuable oil reserves. I do wonder how Dubai’s absolute monarchy will survive when the oil stops flowing. My guess: not very well.

    On the titles thing: Calling Kim Jong Un “some guy named Kim” is a liiiiittle inaccurate. According to Wikipedia, he carries the titles:
    Supreme Leader of North Korea
    First Secretary of the Worker’s Party of Korea
    First Chairman of the National Defence Commission
    Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army
    Chairman of the Central Military Commission

    No “The Sun King,” but I imagine those sound pretty impressive in a communist system.

    By contrast, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has the titles:
    Sheikh
    Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates
    Vice President of the United Arab Emirates (these seem to go together under the UAE’s constitution)
    I suspect he has more than these listed on Wikipedia, but I’m to familiar enough with Middle Eastern emirates to know.

    • jim says:

      And yet those same people turn lies into truth, by believing enough in the Constitution that it’s a foundation of legitimacy.

      The USG government abandoned the constitution in the nineteen thirties, but, for a time, parliamentary rule continued. Now even parliamentary rule is being abandoned. For example, the house of reps cannot defund activities it disapproves of.

      If parliamentary rule, the house of reps would have the power of the purse strings, which obviously it does not.

      If parliamentary rule, the government could not do anything, except all branches of government agreed that it be done, and the private citizen could do anything, except all branches of government agreed that he could not. But now it is the other way around.

      Here in the US, the Constitution is pretty near a sacred document. It has an incredible degree of legitimacy with some people

      Pretty much everything the federal government does, is stuff it did not do before 1930. All new federal government activities are unconstitutional, since the federal government had expanded to the maximum it possibly could within the letter of the constitution by 1930.

      Every new president, except for Reagan, has done something even more outrageously unconstitutional than his immediate predecessor.

      Obama’s masterpiece, Obamacare, was never legally passed. (Standard problem of socialism, you can never get a majority, or even a substantial plurality, to agree to any one central plan, since any one central plan is going to step on a majority of people’s toes, so the bill languished in amendment hell. Even if everyone agrees there should be a central plan, you will not find two people who agree on any one central plan.) So, the bill was “passed” by an unconstitutional and unparliamentary procedure. Having been “passed”, it promptly encountered reality, and needed further amendment, but they dared not send it back to amendment hell, so president Obama proceeded to legislate by executive decree, rendering the house of reps and the senate irrelevant, and has been doing so ever since. Indeed, that is the only way socialism can work.

    • spandrell says:

      The mob doesn’t exist. It’s only in your imagination. The people aren’t coordinated, they can’t overthrow the king, even talking about it would get them in serious trouble.

      Now, if somebody with a plausible family claim to the throne had enough powerful friends and a good justification, he could stage a coup.

      Nothing to do with Maslow.

    • jim says:

      Kim needs an elaborate regime of thought control because *his people are starving.*

      If I may unkindly expand your argument.

      Kim is illegitimate because socialism fails.

      The US Government is legitimate because it provides hay and a barn for its human cattle.

      Therefore, it is entirely legitimate for the US government to implement socialism contrary to the constitution and the will of the people.

  5. This is, I think, a more complete theory than Moldbug’s. So by “demotic” reactionaries really mean “lying to maintain legitimacy that would fall apart if the truth were widely known and acted upon”.

    • Holmgang says:

      You would think this to be the case. However, the vast majority in the United States know that their government is lying to them on a daily basis. The government keeps most in line with a combination of fear and a steady increase of bread & circus. This charade is nearing it’s conclusion.

      Furthermore, the cult of egalitarianism has overplayed it’s hand. The average person is beginning to see the motive behind the rhetoric is nothing new. It is but a play for power and supremacy for whichever wronged group they claim to represent. Not a plea for acceptance and tolerance as claimed. The foundation of their house of cards is based on lies and is beginning to fall in on itself.

      • Red says:

        “However, the vast majority in the United States know that their government is lying to them on a daily basis. The government keeps most in line with a combination of fear and a steady increase of bread & circus.”

        People may say they don’t believe the government, but they live as if what the government says is true. You can only keep about 20% of the population in line through fear without restoring into whole sale slaughter. Governments function on the basis that people have faith in them. The moment people stop having faith in them they generally disappear.

    • Deogolwulf says:

      Mr Steves,

      “So by ‘demotic’ reactionaries really mean ‘lying to maintain legitimacy that would fall apart if the truth were widely known and acted upon’.”

      Just to quibble as usual: it depends on what you mean by “mean”. If you mean a definitive meaning, i.e., what is essential to the concept, then “lying to maintain legitimacy that would fall apart if the truth were widely known and acted upon” is off the mark, since it imports into the concept what is accidental to it or what follows from it. Definitively, a demotic regime is one that claims its legitimacy stems from the people at large. Since this claim is false, it follows that a demotic regime is based on a falsehood and, given that this falsehood is knowingly told for the purpose of deception, a lie; moreover, from this it follows still further that such a regime has a strong incentive to deceive and determine public opinion; but all these externalities (and more) should not be imported into the definition itself.

  6. AJD says:

    The question-begging this article is founded on is breathtaking; in what way is Sheikh Mohammed’s status as “rightful monarch” not also a transparent lie?

    • Congo Sam says:

      He succeeded his brother. Dubai has laws about these things. Look them up. Nobody in Dubai cares what you think about monarchs.

      • Andy says:

        And Kim Jong Un succeeding his father is any less legitimate?

        • RS says:

          Its not less legitimate, and Jong-un may end up being rather brutal to his people, as his fathers have been, and most legitimate monarchs in human history haven’t been.

          Yet in 70 years DPRK may be racially superior to South Korea, which is now packed with foreigners.

          Since I think the general military-political and energy-economic world system will mostly collapse by then, DPRK may be in a decent position vis-a-vis South Korea. That doesn’t mean all those people didn’t starve horribly though. All of it is what it is.

        • spandrell says:

          He leads the Workers party but hasn’t worked a day in his life. Lies, which Dubai doesnt need to say.

        • jim says:

          Completely illegitimate, since he was supposedly chosen by the will of the people

          • Congo Sam says:

            Legitimate as far as the law says he is and everybody there accepts the legitimacy of the laws. Not as much as the sheikh in Dubai.

            The “will of the people”, in the sense the DPRK means it, is an obvious pious fiction. It’s not meant to be believed. What they accept is that he has the right to have them killed if they don’t pretend to believe it. That is Kim’s legitimacy.

            • jim says:

              The will of the people is as much meant to be believed in North Korea as in America, and is more believed in North Korea than in the US. In the US, it is a bit of a joke. You are allowed to say it with a sneer, or smirk contemptuously. You are not allowed to call a woman who destroys the lives of her children a slut, but you allowed to smirk when saying “will of the people”. In North Korea, such facecrime would get you killed.

          • Dan says:

            I do know that what Kim Il Sung the patriarch died, there was an almost unimaginable level of grieving.

            http://www.pbh2.com/astounding/mass-hysteria-after-the-death-of-kim-il-sung/

          • Candide III says:

            @Dan And why do you think that was? Because people who did not grieve enough were in danger of their livelihoods and even lives. This started an arms race: if your neighbor is tearing his hair out, dare you stop at shedding tears?

            • jim says:

              Compare and contrast with a traditional monarchy. The traditional announcement of the King’s death in England was “The King is dead, long live the King” – the official position being that the death of an individual monarch was no big deal, and no problem – we want minimum transition drama.

        • Congo Sam says:

          How on earth does that amount to a refutation of Kim’s legitimacy? Did I mention Kim? Show me where I mentioned Kim in my comment.

          Jesus. I’m not gonna try to communicate with you.

    • RS says:

      I think that line was meant to be a bit ‘trollishly’ summary or contrarian. Or just compactly put because most readers are hard-right and will see what is meant.

      Yet it is literally pretty true, because
      1. legitimate monarchy produces quite good government compared to most things
      2. royal lines tend to be genetically and generally superior (not unrelated to #1 above)

      I myself believe in a constitutional mixed republic, in which the constitution is about 100 words long (anything more prolix is proportionally more violable) and mostly just says the society exists for the posterity of the founders, and rights include guns, speech, and due process for arrest/penalization. The king and commons are relatively weak, the aristocracy relatively strong, and the franchise pretty narrow.

  7. RS says:

    > Moldbug argues that to avoid an oppressive apparatus of thought control, we need a strong government. The problem with this solution is that there are no strong governments.

    Yeah, this was not his most convincing proposition. Lies will virtually always be particularly important in post-1750 governments. Though fascisms and the older governments were relatively more honest.

    We can hope people will become 40% more cynical about the smarmy ‘altruistic’ governments seen in the last 100 years, but not 80% more cynical.

    Dubai sure beats a kick in the gut but doesn’t seem so tasteful or eudaimonious, which is why I’ll always be a trad, or Old Right, or New Right, or whatever.

  8. Thrasymachus says:

    The ‘demotic” regimes claim to represent the people, but only to the extent the will of the people is morally legitimate. If the people are racist, or against abortion, the regime most definitely does *not* represent the will of the people, except to the extent it represents the future will of the people when they will have been properly educated.

    The “demotic” regimes actually represent true morality, the leadership being a morally superior elite, just as the Pharisees represented the apotheosis of morality in Roman Jerusalem. The idea of being ruled by a moral elite may have begun with Plato, or maybe earlier. That the idea doesn’t have a real good track record suggest it’s not ever going to work.

    The difference is not between a monarchy and a demotic regime, but between one that rules by virtue of its moral elite status and one that rules just because.

  9. spandrell says:

    I nominate “facecrime” as word of the month.

  10. Candide III says:

    Jim, you forget that the Soviet Union was formally a democracy. Its constitution stipulated a right for the component republics to manage their internal affairs and leave the union. They had elections to local, regional and supreme soviets (with only one candidate from the bloc of Communists and non-affiliated). The communist party was supposed to be run on democratic principles (democratic centralism). Why, the leading and directing role of the communist party was only formally recognized in the 1977 constitution!

    As for theory, government is both an illusion, for reasons you state, and non-illusion, because normal people are much too busy with their own lives to even begin to decide on the thousands and thousands of things that need deciding in a civilized country. Many of those things are decided by other private persons, whether singly or organized into companies, but many aren’t. It is much simpler to follow reasonably reasonable rules and directions than work out everything yourself (not that it is can be done, unless you are a hermit and live in a cave on honey and locusts). Also this puts the normal person into a comfortable position psychologically: he is not responsible for everything in sight.

  11. Anissimov says:

    How did we get from “Ring of Fnargl” to “Ring of Fnarg”?

  12. […] Truth: “Everyone I know fears the truth in their private lives. We all want to live delusion that we are something more/better/greater/more powerful than we actually are and most people become extreamlly hostile when you’re blunt and honest with them” (Red) […]

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