[In response to various threads between @discoursedrome and @balioc . I don’t agree, like, at all with Balioc,
but his opponents are misreading these claims in ways I find pretty willfully dense.
So I’m going to go into the subject.]
I saw on my dash something about the pervasive spyware tools
the CIA has, even more ubiquitous than you had previously thought, as revealed
by wikileaks. I yawned because even though I am a terrible piece of trash who
is guilty of many sins, both real and thoughtcrimes, I expect it to have zero
effect on me. It’s bad yes, but bad in an abstract way.
If you told me my employer’s IT guy, or the local policeman
I see at Dunkin, had these tools, I would lose my shit. And I suspect this is
the natural reaction many people would have.
“The sky is high and the Emperor is far away” as the old
Chinese proverb goes. What goes on in our personal sphere – that of neighbors
and their close relations – matters to
all of us in a way we find difficult to express on tumblr and viral media. If
we have power over people close to us, it is basically impossible to not let
that warp our interactions. And if they have power over us, even more so, as we
toe the line of politeness and humility to get them to not use that power to
hurt us. Even saints have to work hard to resist this all-consuming bias, and
they rarely succeed.
The blessing of a distant, lecorbussian ruler, is that they
do not actually care about us and our servility to them. They don’t even know
us. So they make sweeping judgments based on abstract rules that barely apply
to our situation, which may be good or bad, but at least they aren’t doing it
on the basis of whether we invited them to our party, or if we’re dating their
Now, one would prefer a ruler who is local enough to know
the details necessary to come up with contextually appropriate solutions, but
who also does not demand you treat them well on a personal level, or favor the
various local bullies who already inflict tyranny on you. But that is rather
difficult to achieve.
What Balioc is advocating for here is a ruler intelligent
enough to know our context, and distant enough to not care except in the sense
of maximizing some public utility function. This has never been achieved in
human history, but it is at least one and
only one problem to solve. There’s an appeal to that, particularly if you
look at the fiasco of American federalism.
And spiritually, I do not think he is far off in his desires
from the sort of Just Political Deity many people search for in their vague
language. Conservatives desire One True Constitution that can resolve all our
disputes while holding no partiality because it died over two hundred years
ago. And the rationalists are known for talking about an AI god who will
basically perform the same function. It’s not the dream of an infinitely
benevolent god who knows the smallest details of your life and loves you for
them… it’s someone with enough power and
enough disinterest to practice benign neglect. Might as well call it the
In the simplest terms, remember how “freedom” is always
expressed on a limitation on someone else, to stop you from doing something.
The populist-monarchism alliance has always been based on “I want the central
actor to have the power to control the closer tyrants from exercising their
power over me.” That’s the case for every labor regulation, the aforementioned
Constitution, CPS, and on and on. You can frame almost every demand for freedom
as demand for a stronger, more central tyrant somewhere along the line.
I personally try to bow out of political arguments that are
basically over “which level of the power hierarchy gets the freedom”, but most
people still get caught up in them, and for those “Silicon Valley Monarchism”
is a pretty intuitive and simple solution to that particular knot.
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