Mencius and Kling agree

Mencius Moldbug has long argued, in an exceedingly long winded fashion, that we live in a theocracy.  The priesthood teach that the state deserves authority, the schools teach the official religion, and the state funds the schools and the priesthood.

Now Arnold Kling gives the same analysis, calling it market failure, rather than theocracy

Suppose that we have a group that wants enormous political power. The group rewards people who justify its power by calling them “experts.” It punishes those who question its power by dismissing them as “hacks.” If you want money and status, you want to be labeled as an expert. In order to be labeled as an expert, you produce analysis that justifies concentrated political power for the elite group.

This process is self-reinforcing. It is like the Harvard-Goldman filter. That filter says that only “reliable” people are allowed to be bank CEO’s or policymakers. A requirement for being “reliable” is sharing the views of other “reliable” people as to what constitutes reliability.

It is like the tenure system in academia. Who gets tenure? Above all, it is people who support the existing tenure system

Mencius’s proposed cure for this problem is a “strong” sensible state, where “strong” means something very like fascist, or despotic. However, strong states have a poor record for sanity.  Power tends to isolate the possessor from reality.

Another solution for this problem, something that Kling would probably find more congenial, is Mencius’s “antiuniversity”

After all, the previous theocracy bit the dust thanks to protestantism and the reformation, which held one could do religion without a hierarchy. If religion can be done without a hierarchy, so can science.  The priesthood is the most vulnerable part of a theocracy.

13 Responses to “Mencius and Kling agree”

  1. cvd says:

    It’s incorrect to describe Mr Moldbug’s ideal state as “something very like fascist.”

    If you must compare it to something, it should be compared to the old “absolute” monarchies.

    The difference is that he suggests leveraging the modern practice of corporate governance (think equity ownership, board of directors, etc.) to select and oust the leader. You’ll have to go to his site for more, but it should be clear that the actual workings of his proposed system are remarkably unique.

    • The absolute monarchies were not at all fascist because, for the most part, they were not at all absolute. To the extent that they actually succeeded in being absolute, they were very much fascist.

    • Bill says:

      But, the modern practice of corporate governance features corporations almost entirely captured by their upper management. Ousters of corporate leaders (CEOs, Chairmen of Boards) via shareholder activism is exceedingly rare. So, the modern practice does not work as advertised.

      • jim says:

        Corporate democracy works when there are a small number of big shareholders who are more or less the board themselves. When the CEO and board screw over the smaller shareholders, as frequently happens, the smaller shareholders are apt to sell out to a small number of big shareholders, who proceed to make sure the company really does pursue the best interests of the shareholders. If, however, the CEO could shoot the shareholders, which was the way absolute monarchy worked, it could well be a problem.

  2. Constantinople says:

    What a tragedy that Kling should call this “market failure”, which lends it a seeming political valence exactly opposite to its true import.

    So-called anti-intellectualism is frequently anti-expertism (though it is also anti-sophism), and anti-expertism is, as explained here, anti-theocracy. We might benefit from the spread of a term that more accurately reflects the essence of so-called anti-intellectualism. Thomas Sowell just wrote a book called “Intellectuals and Society” which, unfortunately, makes use of the term “intellectuals”, for which the immediate counterpoint exists that Sowell is an intellectual. The response, “just read the book and you’ll understand why this criticism doesn’t hold water” is unfortunate because reading the book is something nobody will do. How much better it would be to use language that makes the argument in a few syllables, so that anyone reading the title already begins to understand.

    • Yes, we do not have the words to clearly express the problem, nor any alternative institutions.

      • Bill says:

        What’s wrong with “elitism” and “anti-elitism?” What Kling is describing is the rule by self-perpetuating elites. The belief that this is a good idea is elitism. In current practice it is rule by an academically credentialed elite, so I guess you could call the specific thing “credentialism.” But that’s a fine word, too. The problem is that anti-elitism (or populism) have negative connotations — but this negative connotation comes from the fact that these are the right words. Any words used to describe the opponents of the ruling class will promptly come to have negative connotations.

        I think what is lurking here is the neocon error. The belief that one can simultaneously be hip and stylish while opposing entrenched power. Who was hip and stylish, the cavaliers or the roundheads?

        “Anti-elitism” or “populism” are the right words. Those words are associated with icky people because they are the right words.

        • jim says:

          The masses really are icky, and, as Mencius argues, democracy causes the problem, since the priesthood gets subsidized to indoctrinate the masses. If democracy actually worked, they would probably elect Hitler. Everyone furtively favors aristocracy, rule by the best. But the trouble is that the actual rulers do not appear to be the best. As I remarked in another comment, they seem to get things right about as often as with the classic greek system of inspecting the innards of animals sacrificed to the gods.

          You are right that any word that refers to those that rule is going wind up with a meaning something like “the best”, and any word that refers to their opponents is going to wind up with a meaning something like “ignorant superstitious hicks”

  3. Constantinople says:

    “But the experts are right. Creationists are wrong, vaccines do not cause autism, the globe really is warming, low-fat grain-heavy is better than Atkins, etc.” Even a stopped watch is right twice a day, so it should not be surprising that on some matters the theocracy is right and its critics wrong. But what these four examples indisputably have in common is not that the theocracy is right on all three, but that the conclusions of the theocracy are crammed down our throats. The first and last (evolution and the food pyramid) are pushed through government control of education, vaccines are mandatory (or are on their way to being mandatory), and global warming is being used to justify massive additional reduction of individual liberty. The objection Serrano’s Piss Christ was never that an artist should have the temerity to offend Christians, but that the NEA gave him money for it.

    Those who decry the anti-intellectualism of the critics of the establishment tend to treat the controversy as purely intellectual with the weight of evidence on the side of the establishment – though when pressed, they usually lean, not on evidence, but on credentialed expertise, demonstrating that, right or wrong, their own support of the establishment is not scientific, but religious. Meanwhile they ignore the underlying conflict, which is between the government, which seeks to control the individual, and the individual, who desires not to be controlled. The conflict is between tyranny and liberty and in all cases above the defenders of the establishment side with tyranny.

    • “But the experts are right. Creationists are wrong, vaccines do not cause autism, the globe really is warming, low-fat grain-heavy is better than Atkins, etc.”

      Well they are right about creationism and vaccination, but the globe is not warming in any consistent way (see my previous posts on twentieth century warming) and low fat grain heavy diets are bad for you, leading to obesity, diabetes, and kidney failure.

      Fifty percent correctness is about what we would expect from blind chance. The classic Greek priesthood appears to have done better than that by reading the livers of cattle.

      • Constantinople says:

        Just to clarify, I put the statement in quotes. It does not represent my view, but rather, how I imagine someone might object. I deliberately included the two dubious-to-false claims in the statement, because they are indeed among the claims still being pushed by the establishment. As far as I know the food pyramid is still being taught.

  4. Occupant says:

    [What a tragedy that Kling should call this “market failure”, which lends it a seeming political valence exactly opposite to its true import.]

    As I understand him, Kling wants to redefine “market failure” to mean ‘a failure of markets to thrive (because of government interference)’, whereas the usual meaning is something like ‘markets fail to sufficiently provide lighthouses’. It’s semantics, really. But I doubt it will catch on. Members of the Clergy have a vested interest in the current usage.

    Might be worth a shot, tho. A change in usage would deprive the power-mad of a crucial tool.

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