Socialism Versus Jordan Peterson: The Case of Complexity Science

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The debate of nature versus nurture has undergone a new political dimension. Although that  discourse was always political, it seems that a combination of mediatic dynamics and academic fortress building has divided the nature-nurture debate into  two ontological camps. In other words, each camp’s language is unintelligible to the other.  On one hand, you have the sociological Left  that posits  that socio-economic discrepancies between races and the sexes are  due to socio-cultural phenomena. For example, centuries of policing gender boundaries (some of which continues today) through both soft suggestion (e.g. gendered roles), and direct institutional violence (adultery laws, banning of women in certain professions etc.) have solidified a disadvantaged position of women in this society. On the other hand, you have the naturalistic “center” or right wing  (e.g. Jordan Peterson) that argues that the lower socio-economic position of women is not a function of structural obstacles, but personality differences that are more or less biologically hard-wired that make women choose less paying professions, or be less confrontational and assertive in corporate settings.

This piece-meal approach, on one hand of the Left’s sociology, and on the other hand, of  the Right’s naturalism, is counter to  a scientific ontology,  which would posit that humans are both social beings and evolved animals.  Even if the Left is correct in that  biological variables are not necessarily relevant to many of the social sciences, the Right’s naturalistic prescription of social problems as functions of biological darwinism makes more intuitive sense to an anglo-saxon audience. This is because  anglo-saxon education is steeped in scientism (e.g.  anglo public intellectuals, such as Dawkins, Degrasse Tyson, etc. are scientists),  and their culture is ill equipped to deal with more sociological  and philosophical arguments (e.g. Weber’s argument about the West’s instrumental reason). So given the scientism of western culture, it is important for leftists to develop a synthesis that outlines when do sociological feedback loop completely overwhelm biological loops, rather than simply eliminating biology from their conceptual framework. I believe this synthesis is possible using the conceptual constellation of complexity science (something I’ve written about before).  To make my case,  I will first outline why the Left is against naturalistic prescriptions. Secondly, I will explore how these sociological arguments were recuperated by liberal bureaucrats and opinion makers (hereby referred as coordinators), and thus made  naturalistic arguments more popular given the backlash to authority. Finally I will sketch a  “complexity science” synthesis  on why is it that social dynamics tend to be more important than biological ones when dealing with human society.

Humans are  animals, the end-product of billions of years of biological evolution that transformed a primal bacteria into a big-brained, bipedal primate that can talk and make abstract, mathematical computations. However  the human being is also a social being, shaped and programmed by various complicated feedback loops that are enforced not only by the most rudimentary kinship unit such as the nuclear family, but by large-scale socio economic structures that extend through centuries and thousands of kilometres (e.g. states).   However,  one of the most ancient and predictable tricks done by the elite is to justify their privileged positions through naturalistic arguments.  For example, in the 19th century social darwinism and racial pseudo-science was used to biologically  justify the privileged position of the white man and the capitalist. Given the reactionary nature of these pseudo-scientific arguments,  revolutionaries and militants began  taking a sociological approach to dismantle the naturalistic myths of power (e.g. Marx) – it’s not biology that has given the capitalist or the white man the head-start, but complicated historical contingencies that gave rise to feedback loops that privileged some castes at the expense of others.  Existing power differentials were not biological telos, but a historical accident.  These sociological arguments formed the theoretical backbones of working class militancy, feminist activism, and anti-racist movements.

However, recently  these initially emancipatory sociological explanations  have been recuperated by a professional caste in a diluted, tragic form. This form does not have the objective of liberating humanity by addressing  material structures that sustain the nightmare of class society.  Instead, these ideas have become defanged into  talking points used by the bosses to discipline how their employees talk, or strings used by human resource cyborgs  to maintain appearances in the atomic wasteland of social media. These new deplorable, liberal coordinators, only concerned with maintaining optics and flaunting  cultural capital,  are unable to defend these sociological ideas, because nothing is at stake for them except television ratings or curriculum vitaes.  Jordan Peterson,  the idiot’s smart man,  by realizing how vulnerable are these clueless coordinators, has made a killing for a living, netting him about sixty grand monthly in his Patreon.  For example, he recently crushed Cathy Newman in a televised debate, which was a cathartic event for his fans. By  uttering the most simplistic and naturalistic  anti-feminist talking points, he made Newman short-circuit, making her repeat stereotypical liberal mantras over and over. Like Quilette recently published, it seemed like Newman hadn’t heard  these really basic arguments  that are routinely used by wikipedia-reading  misogynists   and crackpot “evo-psych” amateurs, and was just caught in some liberal, human resources bubble where the barbarian hordes of angry  dads  are gated away.

Given the inability of the contemptible coordinator caste to  actually defend these sociological arguments from the naturalistic attack in the first place, socialists must  come up with a synthesis on how to address this naturalistic attack and  defend the socio-historical tradition of the left.   As I have written before, complexity science may offer a good outline on how to address these naturalistic arguments.   Complexity science roughly argues that complicated systems cannot actually be reduced to the behaviour of their individual units. Instead, the system  itself creates emergent feedback loops and laws that cannot be simply be derived from the microphysics of the individual unit.  For example, psychology cannot be reduced to the behaviour of the individual neuron, or  how the temperature of a gas cannot be derived from the trajectory of one molecule. Instead these systems must be sometimes treated on their own terms. For example, the Newtonian physics that describe the air flow around an airplane’s wing  is not concerned  with the quantum chromodynamics of quarks.  The science that deals with mental illness operates without a  picture of how neural synapses works. In other words, systems operate on their own level of abstraction that overwhelms the particularities of the unit.  This is the case with socio-economic issues – although it’s true that society is made of evolved animals subject to biological forces,  these naturalistic particularities are overwhelmed by  socio-economic feedback loops.

Let’s use complexity science against Peterson as an example. In his recent debate against Cathy Newman he was arguing that one of the reasons the gender gap persists is because of women’s agreeableness.  According to him, women tend to be more agreeable, and therefore that  affects negatively their  earning potential in highly competitive workplaces. I also found out in an interview he had with Stefan Molyneux  that Peterson associates agreeableness with maternal instinct, ergo it is somehow biologically  hardwired into the female psyche.    The controversial point is not so much whether women are more agreeable or not, but if that agreeableness is a function of biology.  How on Earth would you even begin to prove agreeableness is hardwired biologically in a scientific way? At most, you can make a study  that shows gender and agreeableness are empirically correlated. Although, in the context of scientism, attributing agreeableness to some darwinistic  child rearing instinct “makes sense” in a shallow, common-sense sort of way, that does not mean such a theory can be proven scientifically.  In contrast, a sociologist or anthropologist may document various gender-policing mechanisms, which act as social feedback loops,  where woman are castigated for being combative (e.g. being called a bitch, caricatured as an evil manager etc.) therefore reinforcing female agreeableness as a social strategy, leading to a plausible narrative for the sociological explanation. The point is this – similar how to how the properties of the individual neurons are buried within the emergent laws  that constitute psychology, it could be that the the individual biological wirings of the female psyche are overshadowed  by the socio-economic feedback loops of by class society.

Peterson also claimed that hierarchy is biologically coded into much of the animal kingdom, including humans. Therefore he argued that the sociological explanation for the historical contingency of hierarchies is incorrect, given that our evolutionary ancestors already enforced hierarchies (e.g. lobsters).    However, the sociological explanation of modern power differentials is actually vindicated by the behaviour of early hunter gatherer societies, who some could argue are devoid of the more complicated feedback loops that appear in complex, sedentary societies. Even if these hunter gather societies may operate with  “soft” hierarchies (e.g. the existence of chieftains, leaders etc), it would be ridiculous to put these dynamics in the same order of magnitude as the extreme power differentials existing  in modern class society between a worker versus a president or a CEO. Therefore,  even if  a “soft” hierarchy may be encoded in our biological wiring,  it is completely  overshadowed by extreme  power differentials arising out of socio-economic structures.

I hope that my humble effort at a synthesis may generate some interesting thoughts. I am a firm believer that socialists should justify their positions with concrete arguments rooted in existing scientific consensus, and  therefore the argument against  “naturalism” must not only be philosophical, but based on our empirical understanding of reality as well.

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The Minimal Socialist State Versus Bloated Capitalism

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Perhaps one of the largest, propagandistic triumphs of capitalism is to equate socialism as inefficient, bureaucratic bloat. In contrast, capitalism is portrayed as a lean, efficient system. Many argue that the market, instead of depending on a slow moving, centralized bureaucracy to produce and allocate the necessary goods, automatically balances supply and demand, with the price signal as the carrier of information on how to produce and distribute commodities. However, I believe that socialism, at least the version exposed by Marx, would be a free society with a very lean and bare-bones administrative apparatus (a minimal state). For socialism to be a qualitatively different stage of history than previous class societies, social structures need to be dictated by free time as opposed to the imperatives of slavery, survival and toil. In other words, the time outside the activities necessary for the survival of the human species, must dominate the course of history. This freeing of human life from drudgery and misery requires a lean apparatus that curtails all the extra socially wasteful industries and infrastructures in order to progressively reduce the length of the work day until the eventual abolition of toil. In short, the socialist state must be minimal. First, I will expose the arguments that portray socialism as bloated and inefficient, then I will argue why instead, capitalism is wasteful and swollen, and then I will sketch some of the key attributes of this minimal socialist state.

At first glance, the right wing case against socialism sounds sensible, both philosophically and empirically. In the philosophical realm, it seems unlikely that a central planner can possibly have all the necessary expertise to know what is happening “on the ground”. In the empirical realm, the former socialist bloc was sluggish, bureaucratically bloated, and authoritarian. In contrast, market-based societies appear much more efficient and freer.

However, I believe these arguments, although they may sound plausible, are ultimately wrong. The reason why these arguments appear correct, given that many of the socialist states tended to be more authoritarian, inefficient and “backward” than the West, is due to a combination of a couple of factors: (i) pre-modern forms of life that existed in the underdeveloped countries where “socialism” took root, (ii) geopolitical configurations where the periphery (socialist states were peripheral) is in an inferior bargaining position, and (iii) the ideology of instrumental reason in the West, that rationality that values the calculation of the means, over thinking about the end.

In the first case (i), as I mentioned in a previous post, many of the problems identified with the existing “socialist” countries are not formally related to the idea of a planned economy, but are linked to social forms that predated “socialism” sometimes for centuries. For example, clientelism is a large scourge in underdeveloped countries, where informal exchange of favours and services between powerful agents undermine the transparent functioning of institutions. These problems predate capitalism and “socialism” and where even formalized in ancient Rome. In the USSR, clientelism was evident through the way wealth was accumulated by the elite, where high ranking bureaucrats exchanged favours and privileges at the expense of society at large. The opacity of institutions due to these webs of corruption and hierarchies also created feedback loops where the citizen do not trust formal mechanisms anymore, creating the large-scale systemic problems that led to the USSR’s collapse. This generalized state of corruption also lead to various factions of the bureaucracy scamming and conning each other, by misrepresenting and exaggerating (e.g. how many widgets where produced in a factory) in order to lever a career advantage. The sum-total of all these dynamics led to massive wastefulness, scarcity of useable goods, and ultimately terror. The problem of corruption, wastefulness, and terror is common across much of the periphery (including peripheral capitalist states), and is not formally related to socialism.

The second case (ii) is very closely related to to the first case. Due to various historical factors, many of the countries that became “socialist” where peripheral societies (e.g. Cuba, Russia, etc.) that where economically subordinated to other more powerful countries. Their lack of capital-intensive technologies and working institutions made them dependent of the core economies for technologies (e.g. engines, computers, medicine, etc), turning them into bodegas to be ransacked for slave-like labour and cheap natural resources. This dependency not only assured that the periphery (and thus many socialist states) lagged behind, but also created other feedback loops that lead to other dysfunctions. In the case of the USSR, the State was forced to industrialize quickly in order to have the military capabilities to defend itself against a more powerful and hostile West. This fast, frenzied, and unscientific hyper-industrialization that appeared during the first Five Year Plan, created corrupted institutions due to unrealistic objectives that forced, for example, factory directors to inflate their numbers and share dishonest information.

The third case (iii), the focusing on the most efficient way to achieve the means, without thinking about the end, distorts the discussion on what does “efficiency” mean. Capitalism is extremely good at intensive development, where a novel technology or a service, is made progressively cheaper and more advanced as competition forces firms to cut down costs. This leads to the “lean” and “efficient” perception of the West. However, the efficiency that leads to profit, that is the optimization of processes related to the creation of random commodities, is not necessarily the socially preferable form of efficiency. For example, a key socialist demand is the shortening of the work day until its eventual abolition. Defenders of the market, such as Keynes, thought that capitalism by its own devices would create a shorter working day. However, the eight hour work week has persisted in the United States and Canada for about a hundred years, even if the economy grew exponentially in that same century.. Other more banal examples of capitalist “inefficiencies” are the coexistences of vacant buildings with homelessness, and long work-day with unemployment. In short, capitalist efficiency ultimately only concerns itself with profit, and although this logic can lead to various socially beneficial by-products, such as cheap computers and an abundance of calories, capitalism is not concerned with the realization of social-need, therefore it cannot reduce the work-day, create sustainable and psychologically beneficial urban spaces (as opposed to private condo towers and desolate suburban sprawl), and deal effectively with the question of climate change. Ultimately, capitalism, with its creation of random, socially unnecessary market and industries, becomes increasingly bloated. For example, a large percent of the GDP in core economies is related to Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate (FIRE), a sector that would be rendered irrelevant with the abolition of private property.

Ultimately the socialist, minimal state, would shrink the world’s administrative apparatuses (the bureaucracies of corporations, the executive and judicial powers, the administrative bloat of universities) by (a) the abolition of private property, and (b) through planning. The fact that private property is mediated through a contract, whether the contract is digital (e.g. ownership of stocks), or analog (the paperwork of a house), inevitably creates an administrative bloat of gentry-scholar like functionaries, both in the private and public spheres, that have to deal with the regulations, lawyering, and the legalese of these contracts. In addition, the increasingly fractal and abstracted labyrinth of private property creates an informational complexity in the form of FIRE, which is a socially unproductive sector, but is necessary for capital to “grease its wheels”, by bailing out companies through loans, stimulating investment, moving capital shares across thousands of miles at a fraction of the speed of light through optical fiber cables, etc. Once socialism abolishes private property, the informational complexity will be greatly reduced, transferring the world’s labour to socially necessary tasks.

Planning will be the central engine of the minimal socialist state. By planning, through a combination of accountable “planetary” central planners at the large scale, and machine learning algorithms and local committees at the granular scale, industries that are deemed socially necessary (e.g. agriculture, some IT, medicine, etc.) could be preserved and social waste eliminated. This would create a situation where only the minimum tasks required for comfortable survival will be the domain of labour and the  bare-bones State. Once these socially necessary tasks are recognized (through a combination of scientific planning and grassroots consensus), work will only be spent in doing these socially necessary activities, in contrast to capitalism’s arbitrary tasks that have enslaved humanity to toil for centuries. Once labour-time is minimized, the majority of waking hours would not be spend in grind forced upon by survival, but in free time. Socially necessary labour will be rotated by all the citizens, and will be reduced to the social equivalent of “cleaning your room.” Thus socialism will create a different type of efficiency than capitalist optimization. Although socialism may not lead to the most effective janitor, or the most optimized smart phone, that does not imply that it will be more bloated, miserable, and labor intensive than capitalism. This emancipation of humanity from labor is the hidden potential of modernity, and would usher for the first time in history, a society that will be shaped by free time, not the constraints of survival.

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Your analysis on why the third world lags behind is shitty

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If there is anything that annoys me intellectually the most, is when people give  the apparent well-greased functioning of the Global North as evidence that the Global South should follow the steps of the former.   It sometimes comes in the form of immigrants and exiles  from the periphery or the former socialist bloc, who are often quite ignorant of the source of the dysfunctionalities of their former homes, and simply think these problems are related to very abstract and  cosmetic differences between let’s say, Venezuela and Canada.   For example, I recently saw a blog post claiming how Hayek showed that the pauperization of Venezuela is related to the socialist calculation problem!  To this person, it seems that Venezuela tanked due to not satisfying some extremely abstract and formal philosophical requirements, such as letting price signals decide the allocation of goods. Yet, Venezuela “on paper” is very similar to european, social democratic states like the scandinavian countries, the latter which are  much more livable and successful. Therefore its problems are not really related to liberal or libertarian canards, but very concrete issues embedded in the venezuelan social fiber that probably pre-date capitalism or “socialism”, which make Venezuela much more miserable than Scandinavia, even if both’s policies seem very similar abstractly, “on paper”.

Popular and pundit analyses about the deficiencies of the periphery, especially on countries that have  leftist administrations, often contain very little about the concrete microphysics of these states.  For example, they almost never speak about the existence in the periphery of pre-capitalist social formations that impede the rise of rule of law and transparent institutions. Some of these social formations are: (i) Patron-client relations, where loyalties between different factions and groups are mediated through the exchange of services and goods, at the expense of loyalty to the state, law and public  institutions. (ii) Cultural issues, such as different approaches to work, time, nature and communalism, that impedes the formation of an “efficient” proletariat.  (iii) Lack of capital intensive technologies in the periphery that make one hour of labor time much less efficient than the same hour in the core.  (iv) Finally, the  asymmetric position of the periphery in the global economic order is probably the most important source of immiseration, where peripheral countries cannot run deficits as large as Canada or the United States to fund social programs, and instead are at mercy of the boom and busts of whatever raw materials they use to finance their social spending.

The sumtotal of the the above  outlined conditions will lead to to a large gap between the periphery and the core, and these conditions are not only a matter of policy, but slow moving, historical averages that are frozen into the social fiber of these countries and that cannot be uprooted easily without some sort of incredible violence.  Much of the economic advantage seen in, for example Canada, is a function of an extreme bloodletting  that lead to the destruction of First Nation social consciousness, in order to supplant it with anglo-saxon approaches on law, private property, and work, turning Canada essentially into the fevered labor camp imagined by the spiritless  automatas of Protestantism.  In the case of Latin America, such as  in southern Mexico, many indigenous nations have not forgotten who they are,  their pre-capitalist memories, although transformed by the centuries long existence  of private property, presidents and Kings, still form an impediment for the smooth functioning of the capitalist economy. For better or worse, this existence of ancient modes of life hamper the efficient realization of the capitalist clockwork we see in the core economies.

Curiously, this abstract disease of western liberals that make them unable to fathom the concrete causes of the periphery’s misery, is shared by western leftists as well.    For example, many leftists believe the common anti-communist canard that the Soviet Union collapsed due to the abstract constraints of a “planned economy”, In other words, that the conditions of the USSR’s lag were related to formal failures in the idea of a planned economy  – i.e. Hayek’s argument that planners will never be as efficient at allocating goods  as price signals.  However the collapse of the USSR was probably related to concrete, social microphysics that were a combination of Russian social forms that pre-dated socialism as well to dysfunctionalities that emerged due to the USSR’s need to defend themselves militarily from a hostile and more economically powerful west.  In fact, some left historians and sociologists (e.g. Fitzer, Ticktin ) have pointed out that these unique conditions created degenerative laws, such as various factions of the bureaucracy scamming, lying, and conning each other which lead to the manufacturing of shoddy, unusable goods,  artificially  tight labor markets, incredible waste, terror and authoritarianism, opacity of information, “planless” planning, and ultimately, collapse.  These conditions outlined are not simply the product of “formal” arguments about economic calculations, but a function of the concrete historical trajectory that predated the creation of the USSR.

Another example of a leftist version of the disease of abstraction lies in the Keynesian/post-Keynesian hegemony in leftist economic thinking. Much of Keynesoid arguments, such as  running large deficits, printing extra money, and the state patching unemployment through the generation of public sector jobs, assume that states have monetary, material, and food sovereignty – that the supply of money and accrual of debt is not constrained by the productive bottle-necks in the agricultural  and manufacturing sectors. These idealized conditions essentially assume the generalization  of labor camp-like relations and homo economicus in all relevant countries. Yet these idealized conditions essentially exist only in a handful of imperialist countries (e.g. United States, and Canada) and not in countries that actually have or had real leftist administrations (Venezuela, Brazil).

Curiously, the partisans of these neurotic abstractions claim the mantle of realism and pragmatism, given that they assume that the triumph of the core economies stand as empirical evidence of their arguments.  It’s a methodology that fits quite well with the anglo-saxon theory-less barbarism of correlation coefficients and tables.  This disease has led to to many Leftists pursue weak-kneed programs such as market socialism, big tentism, and slow gradualism. However the concrete issues of the periphery, such as the lack of material and monetary sovereignty, should raise questions against this cowardly and short-sighted programs. If anything, we must look beyond the nation-state and the market, and find scientific ways of administering and planning the planetary economy in order to destroy imperialism, avoid ecological collapse, and create a world where african, european, and latino workers take reign of their destiny collectively and in an internationalist way.  We must present an alternative to the present, the latter which is  rendered under the stochastic whims of the  capitalist, headless automata.