Mencius Moldbug and the Ring of Power

I've been at a bit of an intellectual dry point for a while. I'm too lazy to read books, while blogs are not sufficiently challenging intellectually

This is why Mencius Moldbug's blog (see sidebar) has been very welcome to me. Having discovered it a few months back, and dabbled in the comments there, I continued to find him stimulating enough that I went back and read through his archives. Which are voluminous -- the man is quirky. Among other quirks, he never writes a paragraph if a page will do.

I think I will try to write up a more complete discussion of the philosophy of Moldbug to coincide with his promised April 17 return. Meanwhile, I was thinking about power analogically, using the Lord of the Rings template, when I realized Moldbug's ideas actually map onto it quite nicely.

In LotR, to recap for those few who have not read it, the central conundrum is created by an evil artifact, the One Ring of Power. It was created by an evil demigod, Sauron, who poured much of his power into it. Sauron was vanquished at one point, and almost but not quite dead. But he cannot be killed while the Ring exists. So Sauron has rearisen to threaten all of Middle Earth with his armies of evil orcs, trolls, etc. This time he has far more power than the degenerate kingdoms of men and fading elves that he faces. They cannot win militarily and everyone knows it.

The One Ring is, as its name indicates, very powerful. Any great person who wields it can command armies and gain victory via its power. However, nobody who has owned it has ever voluntarily given it up, except two hobbits (this seems to be their special power). The Ring is evil, and has a will of its own: although its possessor may have the best of intentions and may do many good things with it initially, the Ring will possess his or her mind in the long run. It will inflame the base desires of the Ringlord, which for men and elves both seems to involve the will to dominate others.

Thus, the conundrum in LotR is that the Ring offers military victory, which is not possible in any other way. And yet if anyone of the "good guys" should wield it and win, it will destroy him or her and in the long run set up its dark dominion in any case. It seems like a no win situation, however, there's one out. The good news is it can be destroyed. The bad news is, being ultramagical it can only be unmade in one place in the entire world, the volcano in which it was forged. And Sauron happens to own that place, which is in the very center of his dark kingdom, practically impossible to get to.

So, in the LotR a couple of weak, largely clueless hobbits are sent on a rather ridiculous errand into the heart of the enemy's territory to throw the Ring into the fire. (This can work in fiction -- may the Plot be with you. But it's still risible from any "realistic" perspective, which many of the characters in the book understand quite well.)

The libertarian analogy here is clear enough. The Ring of Power is coercive power, particularly, legitimized coercion as institutionalized in the State. The conundrum is similar: as Acton said, power corrupts. Nobody can be trusted to run the state, it seems. And so we anarchists want to "throw it in the volcano" -- to break outside of the entire paradigm that the damn thing must always exist. And the risibility factor also maps: how do we get to liberty from where we are? Vote for it? Please.

Mencius Moldbug comes on the scene with a new proposal, his "neocameralism" as he calls it. You can read his explanation at the link. To understand neocameralism via analogy in Middle Earth, we need to understand a few more of Tolkien's "rules". Lesser rings of power were created for all of the free peoples of middle earth (Men, Elves, and Dwarves). Men who get lesser rings of power actually fade from the world, turning to undead, evil wraiths. Elves have their own lesser rings, which Sauron never touched, and they do not fade. But we are assured by everyone concerned that they cannot wield the One Ring safely, presumably because they do like domination (although less than Men), which it would inflame. There were also lesser rings created for the Dwarves. But these rings are said to have little power over Dwarves, who were created separately from Men and Elves. Rather, the only effect on Dwarves is to inflame their existing greed, their covetousness of gold, jewels, and other wealth. (Also the rings seem to magically help them with wealth accumulation in some unspecific way.)

Now I've laid out enough here to understand a radical proposal that should have been entertained at the Council of Elrond. It is this: give the One Ring of Power to a Dwarf Lord. (Presumably this would have been Dáin II Ironfoot, who was the current King Under the Mountain when the War of the Ring happened, but let's call this hypothetical dwarven hero "Fnargl".) Fnargl can use the military power of the Ring to destroy Sauron's power, thus saving Middle Earth from the dominion of a known evil. So far so good. (Analogically, neocameralism fills the power vaccuum that folks like Moldbug worry about in anarchy.) Now the bad part: with the Ring, Fnargl is unstoppable. He will take over the world. (Analog: anarchy is not possible. The State must exist.) But there's good news: unlike other mortals, dwarves don't want domination. Rather they want money. And so the resulting Fnarglocracy will be something truly new in Middle Earth: a kingdom without a real King. Oh, Fnargl will be there, yes. A sort of God-King. But he won't care a whit about the subjects as such: from his point of view, they exist to make him money, and he is undying so he has very, very low time preference. Everyone must be subjected to force them to pay taxes, but Fnargl does not want to control them for dominion's sake, or for any other end except money, money, money. Since the best way to make money is via a free market, he'll let them have that. (With heavy taxation, of course.) He won't otherwise interfere with them. So, you'll get a semi-libertarian outcome: far more liberal than any modern state, but just as tax-heavy. The hobbits can still smoke their weed, so long as they continue to work most of the time. (Analogically, instead of an eternal ruler, Moldbug envisions a corporation. Agency becomes a problem, and more on that eventually, but the idea is the same: corps exist to make money for their shareholders, and so according to Moldbuggian thought they'd make good rulers from the POV of not caring what their subjects do.)

Anyway, for much more on Fnarglocracy, you can read Moldbug's views here. Note that Moldbug is proposing an interstellar alien as Fnargl in the linked piece, with a slightly different power ring. But the same general principle applies.

I have my own critique of Fnarglocracy, which I suppose I will post eventually. Some of it maps to critiques of neocameralism; some of it may not.

Improved Democracy

State democracy is a form of socialism. As such I've got no desire for it. However, democracy as a decisionmaking process is useful in many organizations, for example corporations. And it is also important in the state, of course, whether I like it or not. It is impossible for me as an engineering mind to look at the current system and not think of ways to improve it. Here's a sketch of how I'd set up the democratic subsystem of a government.

The legislative branch is bicameral. The lower house (let's call if, "of Representatives", to make things easier on us with American civics knowledge) is the lawmaking body. The upper house (the "Senate") is the law abolishing body. Laws do not come into effect without being passed by both houses. The upper house, alone, can strike a law from the books, by sunsetting it (see below).

Citizens do not have to register to vote. Every citizen who has registered to vote has one vote in the lower house of the legislature. These votes can be proxied, to any other citizen, or to two special proxies: "no", and "abstain". All proxy assignments, of all citizens, are public information. As a convenience, a citizen's proxy is asked for on each election day, but can be changed at any time by a relatively simple procedure, akin to registering to vote. Proxies themselves may proxy, although they are not allowed to change their own proxy except as a part of an election.

Note that this makes, de facto, two classes of voters: "representatives" (who cannot change their proxy at will), and normal citizens (who can). (Unregistered citizens are a third class.) A representative who wishes to change his proxy without an election should be allowed to do this, but only by giving up his representative status (until the next election). All citizens who were formerly proxying to him should be notified of what happened, and they should have their proxy reassigned to his (old) proxy.

Actual legislation can be voted on electronically, if the technology is present. In that case, there is no need to exclude any voter, although for convenience it may be worthwhile to forbid individual voters. In a lower-tech setting, a physical meeting would be necessary. In this case, only the top 100 representatives (by votes proxied) should be allowed to vote.

There are two kinds of legislation that the House may create. "Writs of Abolition" are proposals which only remove existing laws, they cannot also create any new law or change any existing law. All other proposed legislation is called a "bill". To pass legislation of either kind, 50% of the non-abstaining registered voters must vote for it. The "no" proxy is counted as voting for all Writs of Abolition, and against all bills. The "abstain" proxy always abstains. Representatives vote as they like. A proxy votes with the weight of all citizens who he/she/it is proxying for, who are not currently present and voting.

The upper house ("senate") also is a proxy-based voting system. However in this case, the proxy link is secret, not public. Each election, each voter may vote for a single proxy by a secret ballot. The top 100 vote-getters will be the new Senate. Again, note that proxying means that unsuccessful candidates (those not in the top 100) will have any votes they get proxied to their assigned proxy; this is done as part of the election. Once the election is completed, all proxying to Senators is fixed until the next election.

The senate does not have a lot to do. It has only three powers:
  1. to vote to affirm a bill that has already passed the House
  2. to vote to affirm a writ of abolition that has already passed the House
  3. to vote to change the sunset provision in any existing law.
All laws have a subset provision in, that is, a date at which they cease to be in effect. (Note that the House may assign a sunset to a bill if it wants to, but this is largely cosmetic because the Senate can always change the sunset.)

When a bill comes to the Senate, it must vote to affirm that bill before it can become law. If the Senate does not vote on a bill, it automatically is removed from consideration as possible law at the next election day. (After the election the House may always re-pass the bill to replace it into consideration.) The only change the Senate can make to a bill is to add a sunset provision to it. And it must do this (unless the House did), because for the Senate to pass legislation, it must be sunsetted. The earliest allowed sunset is 90 days after the next election day. The longest allowed sunset is 10 years.

Any existing law may have its sunset provision changed by the Senate. The same limits to possible sunsets apply: the earliest allowed sunset is 90 days after the next election day. The longest allowed sunset is 10 years.

Finally, when a Writ of Abolition comes to the Senate, it may vote to pass it. If it passes, the change in the law takes place immediately. Thus laws may be immediately abolished only with the consent of both houses.

In all three cases, simple majority vote (of proxied citizens) passes the law/sunset/writ.