Nationalism as the ideology of the firm

De ratificatie van de Vrede van Munster

 

It seems the Left’s conception of nationalism as a reactionary force froze by WWII.    The nationalism Leftists oppose is the one that summons images of workers killing each other in inter-imperialist wars,  and men in brown shirts and boots thirsty for revenge against Jews, immigrants and other minorities.    Leftists oppose a right wing nationalism that they see as mystification that blurs class divisions for the sake of  manipulating workers into the defence of the state and capitalism. Yet, although the nationalism of angry white men driven into violent hatred for anyone that looks and speaks differently still exists, the mainstream of nationalism is not the one of the blood, soil, and the fatherland, but that  of technocratic management of capitalism. In other words, the nation-state is, at a first order approximation a  national firm, and civic nationalism is the managerial ideology that encourages the firm to become more competitive and profitable. Not only that, the well being of the average worker is also tied materially to the profitability of the firm, given that the citizen receives indirect “dividends” through infrastructure, public services, and decently paid jobs.  Because the nation-state is a firm, leftists projects that amount to the management of the nation-state simply become the management of the firm, and therefore, will always be constrained the imperatives of competitiveness and profitability.

The ideology of the  national firm can be  gleaned from the way pundits, politicians, and the everyday workers talks about the nation.  The national firm has a ” national economy” that is a function of not only the exogenous factors like the global economy, but endogenous dynamics, such as policy and labor regulations.  This gives rise what is commonly known as “politics” in western, developed countries, which more often than not, is merely a technocratic debate about policy and management, rather than a real clash of world-views. This technocratic discourse contrasts to early 20th century, fledging liberal democracies  that appeared in Europe, where political discourse took a highly ideological flavour;  political parties not only waged a battle for  fundamental values in parliament/congress  in contrast to just managerial policy (e.g. socialists and communists versus conservatives and fascists), but had large parastatal  infrastructures including street-fighting units  and partisan taverns.   This shift in the nature of politics, from a worldview based discourse, that was also enforced in the streets through partisan formations,  to technocratic managerialism, also came with a change of the ideology of nationalism. In short, the  conversion of the narrative, from a highly ideological nationalism speaking about blood, soil,  and the fatherland, to a technocratic nationalism that concerns itself with the health of the national economy as a function of managerial decisions and policy,  correlated with the transformation of the nation-state into  a national firm.

Discourse is  only one aspect of the national firm and is ultimately tied to a real material element. The State, a  bureaucracy made of career politicians and institutionalized paper-pusher,  has at its end goal to  maintain economic growth for the national firm. This behaviour is analogous to the corporate management of the traditional firm, which is also focused on competition and profitability.  Much of austerity, the slashing of labour regulations, and the offshoring of jobs into the third world, is more often than not justified as necessary for maintaining the competitive edge required for increasingly marginal returns.  One could say, that as a first order approximation, the policies of the national firm are a function of economic growth and strengthening of the national currency.   Therefore, it would be quite vulgar to simply state that  the policies of the “national firm” are merely a function of enriching the capitalists – they are about, first and foremost, generating profit for the national firm, which sometimes could mean  that it could affect negatively the interests of certain factions of the capitalist class.

It is in this context that modern, 21th century nationalism should be understood.   It is the ideological expression of the nation-state as a firm,  an ideology that comes in all sorts of political flavours, from the leftist nationalism of the “oppressed”, which was associated with the developmentalist regimes in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, to the right wing nationalism that conjures the libidinal impulses of overzealous men protecting marble Rome from hordes at the gates.    It’s not merely  a “mystification” to manipulate workers and poor into the defence of the nation-state and therefore capitalism,  or a psychological conspiracy to extract the primal impulses of the populace in order to render them to the service of the mighty State, but also the rational expression of a population that is tied materially to the future of the nation-state as a firm, where the availability of jobs, social programs, and infrastructure is contingent to the profitability of the firm.

The Left has many examples where their governments collapsed due to reduced profitability of the nation-state as a firm.   Venezuela’s PSUV, Brazil’s Worker’s Party, and Greece’s Syriza, are some of the more recent examples where ostensibly “socialist” and “anti-capitalist” governments collapsed due to attrition of the national firm’s returns.  Unemployment,  scarcity of basic goods, and collapse of the national currency’s value were not merely willful conspiracies enacted by the capitalists against leftist governments, but a real effect rooted in the reduced competitiveness of the national firm.    This is if anything, evidence of the materiality of nationalism – that it isn’t merely a “mystification”, but the rational expression of a global  economy mediated by nation-states in competition. Indeed. Modlbug, the neoreactionary intellectual, in a moment of clarity where he understood his position as the spokesperson of purified capitalism, argued that the nation-state should be managed literally as a corporation, with shareholders deciding the board of directors, where he called his model neo-cameralist. Yet, he failed to notice, that liberal democracy, the system he loathes, already asymptotically approaches his fevered dream.

Sometimes it seems  the condition of the nation-state as a firm is better understood by the liberal centre and the conservative right wing than the left wing, even when this nature is almost never vocalized, with the exception of Moldbug.  Canadian “progressive” immigration policy, is for example, almost entirely a function of  technocratic policy making, with the amount of available visas, work permits, and  permanent residentships, being contingent to  national demand of certain trades and professions.   The far right,  although  drunk  with ideological wine, makes arguments that appear to defend the profitability  of the nation-state, with exaggerated statistics on the fiscal and social cost of immigrants.  However, the Left positions itself in an ineffective, contradictory, and weak-kneed centre: it pays lip service against imperialism, border-controls, austerity, and outsourcing, while promising to maintain the national firm competitive in order to keep workers employed at acceptable salaries, and infrastructure and social services functioning.  In short, it has cornered itself into the same logical framework that drives centrist and right wing  policy making, which is the profitability of the national firm, while defending universalistic and humanistic values that run counter to market imperatives.

The form of the national firm has not been friendly to Leftist aspirations – from reduced profitability destroying leftist governments, to Leftists getting cornered to the defence of imperialistic and xenophobic policies (e.g. Lexit) given the constraints of the national firm. Yet, because the popular imagination remains bounded by the market – where the possibilities of this world are always imagined to be embedded in a system made of rational agents and firms, not unlike the most boring textbooks of micro-economics, the Left chooses to frame its arguments in these existing logical frameworks.  Yet,  the battle for the national firm will be a battle that the Left will ultimately, always lose,  because the aspirations of a more humane, internationalist, and leisurely society run counter to the optimized imperatives of national competitiveness.  Rather than the Left merely jumping into the constrained discourse of the national firm only because it is the only narrative available, they should create their own discourse that exists beyond nations, borders and capitalism – that aspires for  a global and universal, worker’s republic.  With the advent of climate change, a global phenomenon that cannot be tackled in a system made of fractured national firms that compete against each other, perhaps  Einstein’s aspiration for a universal republic is now more necessary than ever.

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Leftists should wage a culture war for Science and Technology.

joel-filipe-200538

In the  english speaking internet, a cultural war wages between the Left and the Right, that is perhaps representative to an extent of anglo society as a whole, which was recently chronicled by the controversial book “Kill All Normies” by Angela Nagle.   The Left side of the war, which is embodied in tumblr, “social justice warriors”, etc., usually explains the disadvantages faced by women, transgender people, and people as color, as  produced by socially constructed systems, such as  rape culture, the patriarchy, white priviliege, etc. – constructs that were developed in the annals of humanities’ academia. The online right wing, in contrast, explains the disparities and inequalities  faced by women and marginalized minorities as rooted in biological sources, using a  “scientific” language that refers to  evolutionary psychology, behavioural psychology, the distributions of IQ, etc., as  evidence.  The ontologies used by both sides are in some sense incommensurable – the Left uses humanities’ assumptions such as the relevant social forces being  abstract and socially constructed and therefore hard to measure – while the right wing  explains  perceived social disparities   as sourced in biological variables that are tractable and measurable.

Previously, I criticized the “pseudo-scientific” aspects within the far-right for their tendency to correlate complex social phenomena with one or a couple of biological variables. I speculated that a psychological source of the “univariate mind” of right wingers  is the training of the people who make these sort of arguments – typically engineers, programmers, and system administrators,  and the like, who were exposed to simple, univariate systems and beginner statistics in their undergraduate curricula.  However,  a similar   epistemic cage of method also constrains the Left (although I am using the term “the Left” this post specifically addresses the Left in the english-speaking world, rather than the Left in general).  Since the Left’s march through the academe in the 60s, the Left has acquired an alienating  language and methodology  that can only be parsed by the “initiated” (hence the term “woke”).  One of the main, alienating assumptions is  that the categories and frameworks we use to make sense of reality, from common sense, all the way to experimental science, are shaped by the ideology  of the powerful to the point that  these frameworks are always suspect. Furthermore, the Left, because it refuses to embrace a sort of universalism – a common human experience that transcends gender and race,   is unable to reach out to those who aren’t “initiated”, given that the Left is not vested in creating a universalized language. Instead, the Left has produced a labyrinth of “woke” signalling, that can only be understood  and accepted by members of a specific subcultures – in this case, the Left, and the humanities. The Left’s hostility against universalism is related to  the post-structuralist turn in academia, where all broad statements about humanity are rendered suspect, because all knowledge, even the superficially objective type,  is always tainted by power structures. For example, a common  post-structuralist attack against “positivism”, the tendency of science to abstract all social and physical phenomena into well defined, quantitative laws,  is that it is rooted in euro-centric understanding of the world; in other words, the fact that we accept positivism as valid is connected to the dominance of western civilization.

Given the language and assumptions embraced by the Left, namely that  all knowledge is tainted by the power, including   scientific knowledge, scientists will sometimes find the Left ridiculous and alienating.   An interesting example of this phenomenon happened the 90s, with the so called science wars, where Alan  Sokal, a physicist and   sympathizer of the old, materialist Marxist left, submitted a bunk article to one of the top humanities’ journals at that time, Social Text. His troll article, which got accepted,  argued that quantum gravity was a social and linguistic construct.  One could criticize his approach as bad faithed and counter-productive, but what was interesting about the affair is that he wasn’t really looking to discredit literary criticism and “postmodernism”, but to defend the Left from what he thought as negative anti-scientific  influences:

My goal isn’t to defend science from the barbarian hordes of lit crit (we’ll survive just fine, thank you), but to defend the Left from a trendy segment of itself..

It’s useful to analyze the history of the relationship between the Left and science.  Before WWII, it seems that Marxism and social anarchism, both which postulated a knowable, material world as the  basis of  social reality, had a friendly,  even if sometimes contentious, relationship with science.  For example,  Einstein had well publicized anarchist and socialist sympathies, and  the American state purged the Manhattan project of  “communist physicists”, such as Oppenheimer and David Bohm.  Nowadays, however,  the presence of the Left in scientific and technical milieux has dwindled, atleast in the United States.  Superficially, this lack of prescence is obvious in the “online wars”, where most of the writers  and social media personalities that  promote leftist views are overwhelmingly from the humanities,  while the right wing  that peddles anti-feminism, libertarianism, and “pseudo-scientific” racism have almost always technical backgrounds. Nowadays,  you can always guess that any public intellectual that leans to the Left has some sort of humanist background – from Richard Seymour to Zizek.  Furthermore in  the  United States, professionals and workers outside “blue-collar work” that tend to be unionized are public servants, such as teachers, university white collar workers, and bureaucrats – which tend to come overwhelmingly from the social sciences/humanities backgrounds. This contrasts to technical workers, such as programmers, which tend to not be unionized.

Is there an unbridgeable chasm at play – with anti-positivistic “critical theory” versus science? Since the abandonment of the pre-suppositions of the old materialist left, such as enlightenment and scientific humanism, the chasm  seems real.  However I don’t think the chasm is unbridgeable, and the raison d’être of this blog is partly  a leftist “intervention” of sorts  into the scientific and technical millieux.  For example, I think the talk of “systems” in some of the more “materialist” minded left, such as white supremacy, capitalism, or the patriarchy, can be  translated into “mathematical” language using the tools developed by complexity theory and nonlinear dynamics, namely, that society exhibits complex emergent phenomena, such as systematic discrimination of women, exploitation of workers, and systemic racism, that cannot be reduced to the properties of the individual units of the system – such as how psychology cannot be reduced to the action potentials of a neutron, or  temperature to the random motion of one molecule.  This stands in contrast with the pseudo-scientific crackpots  from the right that try to reduce gender disparities in STEM or  income inequality amongst races, to a couple of biological variables such as IQ or amount of testosterone.  Finally, capitalism, and its increasingly more intricate division of labour can also be blamed for the widening of this chasm – scientifically minded people fall into “everything can be explained by a measurable number” idiocy and humanists retreat to textual and cultural analysis,  frolicking in their innumeracy, and flaunting their cultural capital with increasingly more opaque and polysyllabic language.

We shouldn’t leave STEM at the hands of libertarians, racialist crackpots, and resentful anti-feminists, that recuperate the language and methods of technical workers and scientific professionals for reactionary agendas.   Instead, we leftists should wage a  culture war within STEM,  and make it understood that science can be used to build a better and freer world, rather than leaving science at the hands of myopic reactionaries with hard ons for biological essentialism and bad statistics. Therefore, leftists should become more educated in the “hard” sciences, rather than dismissing them as irrelevant for explaining social phenomena. Finally,  we should embrace a universal human experience as the basis of our politics, with scientific discourse forming part of the universalist language, rather than posit that humans of different nationalities and genders are divided by incommensurable experiences, which is implicit in much of the “post-structuralist” left.

 

The univariate mind of the far-right crank.

Normal_Distribution_PDF-2There’s a phenomenon that appears in some of the more conservative parts of  “STEM” professionals/students  which I refer as univariate mind.   Univariate mind is the tendency to abstract  the dynamics of extremely complex phenomena such as  whole economies, the gender wage gap,   dating rituals,  under-representation of certain sexual and racial minorities in industry, poverty, etc. into models that use one or just a couple of variables.  Some of the more committed far-right crackpots extend this ridiculous univariate and simplistic just-so stories into olympian limits, such as white-nationalists connecting the rise and fall of nations,  empires, and modes of productions to a couple of variables such as race, culture, or IQ.

The alt-right are probably the worst culprits of  this univariate thinking.  A superficial  review of some of the intellectual influences of the current alt-right, such as Charles Murray’s “The Bell Curve”, evolutionary psychology, cherry-picked studies from behavioural psychology, and an obsession with IQ reveals this intellectual sickness.   For example, a common justification for white ethno-nationalism is the correlation of IQ with a couple of other variables, such a race,  heritability,  a nation’s wealth and criminality.  Then a simpleminded racist would conclude that because certain races allegedely test lower IQ,  it means they are  genetically predisposed to poverty and criminality, and ergo, policy wise they should be marginalized from positions of power.

However what does one mean by correlation? One can measure the amount of correlation between two quantities using a correlation coefficient. In general,  correlations found in  behavioural psychology, which is probably the number one field univariate reactionaries abuse,  are weak to moderate, in the sense that one can fit a vulgar linear regression of through a data set and find usually a correlation coefficient that hovers from (-) 0.1 to (- )0.8, where 0 means no correlation and (-)1 means that there is a perfect, linear (anti)correlation between two variables.   To give a good idea of what a correlation coefficient means, here are some data sets with  fitted lines and their respective correlation coefficients.

From the above link, it’s evident that a finite (anti)correlation coefficient sometimes is not very impressive,  usually means a weak to moderate trend with fairly large scatters.  There’s also other more complex  metrics  that go beyond correlation coefficients that actually adjust for the number of data points, because a correlation coefficient that uses  two data points is obviously more suspect than one that uses a million data points. The correlation coefficients found in data usually cited by white nationalists and professional misogynists (e.g. coefficients of 0.1 to 0.7) to argue for biological causes of gender and racial disparity are mostly unacceptably low  for the physical sciences, but find their way into the social sciences  because social theories are more uncertain and inexact given that human society is orders of magnitude more multivariate, complex and nonlinear than the electron orbitals of a hydrogen atom.

The lower coefficients, which imply a larger scatter, means that the complex social phenomena that these studies try to model have not only one relevant variable, but many, and sometimes such social phenomena are  not linear and they a can’t be fitted with just a  straight line.  There’s also the question that  over 50 percent of psychology research is non-reproduceable and therefore not trustworthy.  I don’t state this limitation in order  criticize the social sciences by any means, because most of those researchers are aware of the limits, but to warn about  far-right cranks with tiny minds that can only imagine the socio-economic world as a simplistic, linear function that is only dependent  of a few variables (such as IQ, or race). A demonstration of the univariate fallacy is in the book “IQ and the Wealth of Nations“, which is pretty popular amongst far-right “pseudo-statistical” cranks.  The authors made a linear regression between IQ and GDP for various countries and found a correlation coefficient of 0.76.  Not only  did they find a statistical correlation, but made very bold claims about how IQ is a function of these countries’ racial composition.  Not withstanding the poverty of the IQ data itself (for example, the author didn’t have an IQ number for around half of the countries considered and instead interpolated the IQ from  neighbouring countries, also some of the sample size for calculating the IQ in these countries were small and poor),  critics showed  with a rudimentary multivariate  analysis that IQ was much less significant than other factors. In other words, the writers suffered from the “univariate mind” sickness, pushing all sorts of racialist charlatanry based on a one variable linear regression.

Now that I delineated the limits of political arguments based on the univariate fallacy, it would be interesting to explore the question of why these positivistic and vulgar approaches are popular with right wing cranks. One of the most obvious trends worth exploring is the training behind many of the people who peddle these  reactionary beliefs. Although I don’t think most of people involved in STEM are racist or misogynist, there is a significant percentage that are (e.g. Moldbug, James Damore), and I think people like that are susceptible to using the sort of basic statistics and univariate, linear functions one encounters in the typical undergraduate curricula of the “hard” sciences. So these guys (almost always guys) get a small whiff of the power of mathematics and abuse them, without understanding  multivariate analysis, complexity science, chaos, and nonlinear differential equations, which are concepts one learns at the PhD level. This couples with their usual reactionary disdain for the humanities, the latter which eschews the positivistic approach of looking at variables in isolation, and instead deal with society “as given”.   Beyond that, there’s also the larger question of instrumental reason and the division of labour in capitalism, which hyper-specializes humans to the point they are unable to see the world without the filters of their method or trade, reducing the problem of societies into a vulgar line that runs through a  scatter of data.

Far-right charlatans are the most obviously diseased with univariate sickness. However, the illness is more or less generalized at this point. Much of liberal policy, which drives standardized tests, education policy, and our belief in market-based economies, relies on many techniques similar to the one used by racial crackpots.  Namely, the belief that a certain form of linear regression, much of the time using very few variables, is strong evidence for certain policies.  Beyond the problem with this approach as delimited in the above paragraphs, there’s also the problem of dynamism. We live in a class society, with inequalities, war, etc, and  therefore any correlations and laws one could find are only specific to the current exploitative, gendered, racialized and ecocidal social configuration. Ergo the economic and social laws that regulate this society might be meaningless when imagining a world without classes or nations, as Einstein once said in “Why Socialism?“:

But historic tradition is, so to speak, of yesterday; nowhere have we really overcome what Thorstein Veblen called “the predatory phase” of human development. The observable economic facts belong to that phase and even such laws as we can derive from them are not applicable to other phases. Since the real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development, economic science in its present state can throw little light on the socialist society of the future.