Many of our readers will be familiar with Daryl Withycombe from his periodic writings on this site. He believes that modern society will collapse from environmental factors and return to its pre-agrarian rots. To get the full story on this interesting perspective, we talked with him at length.
What is wrong with modern society and what should take its place?
It destroys the Earth and makes people miserable.
A way of life that can maintain some sort of equilibrium with its environment, something humans have proved themselves utterly incapable of since the start of the Holocene.
How does modern society destroy our environment and our happiness?
Humans have figured out how to access an energy gradient through the use of as fossil fuels, which no other species has been able to utilize. This has a variety of dramatic effects. Our society begins to resemble the mice experiments of Calhoun.
More broadly, humans are faced with the problem that our ability to utilize technology allows us to change our environment faster than the process of evolution allows us to genetically adapt to said changes. As a simple example, Australian Aboriginals can be forced to transition from an ancestral diet to a modern Western diet composed of processed foods, within one lifetime.
The environmental problems should be quite obvious. According to ecologists, compared to other carnivores of our size our population is about 2470 times more dense than you would expect. Comparing us to herbivores on the other hand, would leave a normal population size for our species at about 48 million.
You can reduce the environmental impact of humans by forcing us into dense overpopulated cities, but this merely worsens the other problem, the inability for humans to live lives in accordance with our psychological nature. We did not evolve as ants and thus for us to inhabit the city is inevitably a recipe for misery. Ellul saw the city as the supreme rejection of God.
Someone who observed our species from far away would look at us and see that around 10.000 until 6.000 years ago we began to suddenly transform into an eusocial insect-like organism, that builds large colonies where it stores food. It is in fact quite common to witness practice of agriculture among eusocial species. There are even some ants who practice something comparable to animal husbandry with aphids.
We even began to display signs of growing reproductive specialization. A minority of individuals became dedicated to the purpose of reproduction. It’s quite common to read accounts of aristocratic women who gave birth to 23 children or more, effectively transforming into human incubators. They could continually give birth as they did not breastfeed their children themselves which mandates a period of infertility lasting roughly two years, but had specialized worker ants for this.
Then at the start of the industrial revolution 200 years ago, we began to transform into something entirely different, more akin to cells in the body of a global organism, as most humans are no longer even remotely engaged in the process of food production. Our policy-makers ideal is to have a college educated population, continually engaged in abstract labor. The idea of man as a participant in nature was seemingly abandoned long ago.
How would we get to the future you desire?
It’s somewhat naive to assume that we can decide the course of our own species, rather than being subject to physical and economic laws. We’ll get there when civilization has exhausted its ecological niche.
This is what every other life form seems to do, it multiplies until it has changed the environment it inhabits to such a degree by depleting its energy source and/or spreading its waste products, that some combination of other lifeforms ends up better capable of thriving in the resulting landscape.
I also don’t think it’s a good question to ask yourself what you can do to change the world. Making your direct environment a more pleasant place to inhabit than it would be had you never been born is already something most of us struggle to achieve.
How is this different from a Leftist plan?
I’d say leftism isn’t the same animal it always was. During the 60’s the rise of the New Left led to a new consensus in which the focus on class struggle was abandoned. Personally I’d argue this development began to evolve with Lenin’s concept of the labor aristocracy, a theory which presumes that the domestic first world working class is kept sedated with the spoils gained from the exploitation of the third world.
Part of the problem for the left during this period of course is that from the late forties until the sixties, capitalism seemed to be working relatively well for most of the working classes. There was enormous economic growth in Western Europe and the United States. Working hours decreased while the standard of living rose rapidly.
Thus at that point, the working class white male was no longer seen as a fertile ground for insurrection against the established order. Support for progressive policies would have to be found among those who still perceived themselves as genuinely impoverished and oppressed, the lumpenproletariat types.
This embrace of the underclass of society coincides with an increasingly environmentalist interpretation of social problems. Eugenics was originally a progressive endeavor, but it was gradually abandoned during the sixties and seventies in Western Europe. Human beings began to be seen as very malleable. In contrast, Eastern Europe had policies that resembled eugenics in various forms until the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Today in my country you can still encounter the product of various failed experiments from this era, when it was thought that putting petty criminals and other antisocial types in nice secluded neighborhoods would improve their behavior and enable them to move on to normal communities, where they could become productive members of societies. Instead these have effectively become no-go areas, where a few clans live together and occasionally murder each other.
These are mostly tactical mistakes however, rather than the inherent problems pointed out in Brave New World. It might be possible to keep people happy while they no autonomy whatsoever, but could anyone consider this to be a dignified way of living? As Don Colacho put it, “More repulsive than the future which progressives involuntarily prepare is the future they dream of”.
The type of society where all of us receive a basic income sufficient to pay rent and groceries will probably never come into existence. If it will, it won’t survive for very long. It’s nonetheless quite clear that the Luddite fallacy is itself a fallacy. It’s true that during previous eras jobs that were abolished were replaced with new jobs due to growing demand for new products.
This doesn’t imply however that this trend will continue forever. There are inevitably limits to the number of consumer products that people could desire to purchase, at some point people stop spending money on consumer items and begin trying to use it to escape the rat race instead, by paying off debts for example or working less.
What’s probably going to happen instead is that widespread unemployment is going to be accompanied by a decline in our standard of living, due to finite resources. The progressive utopia, where all of us live in concrete apartment blocks and consume sustainable carbon-neutral entertainment products will never come into existence.
It has to be pointed out though that most progressives have no significant longer-term vision of the future, thus at best I can deliver a caricature of what they desire. They have plans meant to keep this ship from crashing into an iceberg within their lifetime, they have no strong opinion on where we should dock. They want a basic income to solve the problem of technological unemployment and they desire a carbon neutral economy to avoid the collapse of civilization.
Once all of these problems are solved, they seem to have no strong opinions on what life should actually consist of, even though various different visions are inevitably bound to run into contradictions. As Doug Stanhope pointed out, they seem to think that “fucking will go out of style”, that people will spontaneously decide they don’t desire any more children. The fact that this would merely create an even more dystopian society, population by Amish, Haredim, Mormons and other religious fundamentalists, seems to be conveniently ignored.
Occasionally you will find transhumanist types, who argue that the next step becomes to ensure that we all become immortal and figure out a way to start terraforming Mars and other planets in our solar system, before moving on to colonize the entire galaxy. This mindset seems profoundly immature to me.
We would be forever on the run from any limits to our exponential growth pattern, isolating ourselves further from the natural world at every point and increasingly rendering ourselves completely dependent on our collective technological project. Would the universe be a better place if it had 2.5 billion Martians playing Skyrim on their Oculus rift?
The better solution to me seems to be a Nietzschean one, to recognize that life is a struggle for survival and that this is what we should aim to derive our sense of purpose from. For us to try to create a post-scarcity society, where we never have to work or face hunger again, means that we are missing the forest for the trees.
What I would propose that we should hope for instead is a world where the vast majority of people live in small tight-knitted communities that produce the essentials for survival for themselves, through hard physical labor. This is the only real solution to the sense of ennui our bourgeois existence produces that I have encountered.
Unless you live in a big city like Tokyo or New York there should in principle be nothing that prohibits you from embarking on such a course today. People often mistakenly tend to look at politicians and expect them to solve their problems for them. It’s perfectly possible in many places to gather wild blackberries, roadkill, shellfish and mushrooms, or to grow food in your own garden. As your standard of living declines, you will find your life to feel less empty.
Many of your solutions are voluntary, i.e. “People can choose to do this.” Why do the majority not choose these options? What will force them to do so?
I think the majority of people don’t choose these options, because they’re not perfect options. I don’t claim to offer perfect solutions. There is also the fact that oftentimes, these solutions require hard work and take a long time to pay off. A similar problem is seen in permaculture. It’s a more sustainable form of food production, but growing chestnut trees takes years before you’re left with trees that are genuinely productive, whereas corn or wheat can deliver you result within a single year.
Also consider the fact that we seem very prone to desire optimizing for one single variable when choosing a particular course of action. I think this is culturally ingrained. To return to permaculture, consider that a field with chestnut trees will per definition have a lower yield in calories than a field of potatoes. However, a chestnut tree will hold the soil in place, preventing erosion, provide a habitat for birds and other animals, spread humidity through the air through the process of evapotranspiration and regulate temperatures in the process, sequester carbon in its roots and branches, etcetera. It’s not an optimal solution for any particular problem, but it’s a solution to many, whereas a potato has a single use in providing the highest amount of starch per hectare and that’s about it.
There is also the fact that power is in fact centralized in such a manner in our society as to render people incapable of pursuing solutions that work to the problems they encounter. If I tell you that people should dry their clothes on a clothing line and you observe that they don’t, I could point you to the ridiculous laws that prohibit people from drying their clothes on a clothing line. Similarly, the oyster industry seeks to prohibit people like me from gathering wild oysters for personal consumption, even though they are an invasive species that our government painstakingly seeks to remove from our shores!
At the same time there exists a massive industry that inevitably tells you the exact opposite of what I tell you. Most people should be quite familiar with this by now, the phenomenon that the advertisement industry teaches you to equate success with the consumption of particular goods and services, as this is their source of revenue. If this is something you are insufficiently familiar with, I would urge you to read Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man.
It should be quite obvious that most people will not return to a simpler lifestyle until they are forced to do so, at which point most of them will seek to convince themselves and the world around them that their decision was actually voluntary all along! What will cause this to happen? The convergence of catastrophes that Guillaume Faye talks about will radically change our society.
I could point at all sorts of disasters that we seem to face simultaneously, it’s unclear which one will be the biggest problem. If millions of Americans now believe themselves to suffer gluten sensitivity, something that seems to be caused by the application of certain pesticides to grain, it’s quite likely that they might start looking for alternatives. When people can’t afford to eat meat anymore, they’ll start to look at roadkill or shellfish. When people begin to figure out how their cell phones make them sick, it’s quite likely they’ll become less enthusiastic about technological progress altogether.
Consensus shifts don’t tend to happen until the problems with the established theory become too overwhelming. The myth of progress is one we have believed for the past two hundred years, since Nicolas de Condorcet convinced people that humans were about to embark on creating paradise on Earth through the use of technology.
Today the problems associated with progress are starting to stack up ever more rapidly. One in 68 children have autism, with no definitive answer as to what’s causing this epidemic. The improved diagnosis argument can be dismissed. Our addiction to fossil fuels is eradicating the very climatic conditions that enabled the emergence of our civilization in the first place. Pesticides we are exposed to can cause epigenetic changes in people that are not expressed until their grandchildren are born deformed.
The elimination of infant mortality has caused genetic problems to build up in our population, so that families now pass type one diabetes and other disorders on from generation to generation. Is anyone really comfortable with the realization that North Korea has nuclear weapons, or that amateurs are now crafting genetically modified organisms in their own homes?
The list of candidates for modern technologies that could blow up in our face has become so long that it shouldn’t be hard to see why we might ultimately come to regret this two-hundred year long experiment we have embarked upon altogether. At that point, with all of these horrors put behind us, people will have a coherent answer ready for any future foolish enough to embark on this entire disastrous journey once more under the impression that it could work if only we had done things differently. It can’t work, it was bound to be a catastrophe from the moment it began.
Do you feel democracy is a cause or symptom of our decline?
You could make a case for either argument. I think the main problem we see with democracy is that politicians are inevitably encouraged to make decisions that will pay off in the short term, because they seek to be reelected. Any type of autocratic government on the other hand, has a better ability to plan ahead.
What this typically leads to is that governments become forced to spend more money to keep the economy growing, creating a growing budget deficit in the process. Any problem that takes more than about a decade to reveal its effects is ignored, if it can’t be solved cheaply. This applies to the growing debt burden, to the erosion of our soils, the depletion of natural resources, the ageing of our population, the demographic explosion in the third world, etcetera.
In addition, to have any sense of understanding about political issues requires such a massive understanding of a wide variety of subjects, that the average person who watches five minutes of soundbites on television can at most form an opinion based on his own gut sentiments. The problems we face today have become far more complex than the ones we faced back in the 19th century, when democracy was meant to ensure that differing demographics with different interests received adequate political representation.
Everyone also seems to forget that the democratic model as it was originally used in Greece existed on a local scale, where all those who voted typically lived in a small community of a few thousand interdependent people, of shared ethnic and cultural heritage. Even early 20th century socialists like J. B. S. Haldane doubted whether democracy would work on the scale of millions of people.
In practice we’ve mostly seen that it leads to a system where the media manipulates people through feelings of guilt and appeals to their prime emotions into voting for the “right” candidates. The media itself of course is also manipulated, by politicians who manage to generate enough outrage. Trump has figured out the system’s Achilles heel in that sense.
None of this leads to very competent politicians. A simple example to consider is Sarah Palin, who didn’t know what the Bush doctrine is. In a two party system, this means that people per definition aren’t left with any genuine choice, as Palin proved to be unelectable. It shouldn’t come as a shock that half of Americans never even utilize their right to vote.
It also remains fascinating to see that democracy inevitably leads to political leadership that people feel lackluster about. This makes perfect sense, as we elect politicians who appeal to our lowest common denominator. If another election were held today, the two currently governing parties in the Netherlands would receive less than 25% of the vote. This makes them less popular than autocratic leaders like Putin and Assad, people our democratically elected leadership hope to see lynched one day the way Gadaffi was.
It’s quite easy to point out the variety of flaws democracy has. I wouldn’t dare to suggest a better system however. If a better system is possible, we would expect to see it somewhere, yet I can’t think of a country that’s really doing much better than the democratic nations. People point to monarchy as a solution, but if monarchy led to effective government, we’d expect to see countries return to greater autocracy. Democracy has conquered the globe because it seems to be the only system capable of stabilizing industrial societies.
The solution here is to recognize that humans in general are poorly capable of making collective decisions that affect all of them. Thus it’s best to avoid creating a need for collective decisions in the first place. If an entire street had to decide on a daily basis what to eat through voting, they’d soon realize that they’re all better off buying their own groceries on an individual basis.
The problem our society has is that people who are very dissimilar are forced to make collective decisions. Today, we even find ourselves forced to come to an agreement on setting the global temperature for the future. This is sheer insanity. The correct question we should ask ourselves is how we can make a society that doesn’t need a government.
Without modern technology, there is typically no real need to make collective decisions. If 30,000 dollar chemotherapy drugs don’t exist, we don’t have to make a decision on whether we feel your child deserves to live another three months for that price or not. We would have to accept such sickness as an act of God, which is always easier to make peace with than an act of man.
How do you think societies should make decisions about resource allocation? For example, the $30,000 cancer drug, or who gets food when it is scarce?
Our type of society seems poorly capable of dealing with any sort of scarcity, as it was designed for perpetual economic expansion. We can make plans for what should happen when scarcity returns, but it seems quite clear to me that political power will fall into the hands of whatever groups of people with guns choose to band together when food shortages return.
Ideally we would address the problems involved in resource allocation through planned degrowth and decentralization, but that’s unlikely to happen, as it seems that our system starts to collapse when it ceases to grow, especially now that our debt burden is so high.
In addition, degrowth makes a nation vulnerable to competitors who do choose to grow. If planned degrowth ever stood a chance, it probably would have been after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the United States was the world’s sole superpower.
Right now we can buy ourselves some time through wealth redistribution like Sanders wants to do, where the luxuries for the elite are sacrificed to ensure everyone can afford the basic necessities, but that’s a temporary solution at best.
Would having an aristocracy who control most of the wealth, thus limiting growth, help that situation?
Probably not, for a number of reasons. We can look at countries governed by aristocracies for a moment and see what they are up to. Saudi Arabia has had an exploding population, began to produce some wheat, that it then exported to other countries. It implemented heavy fuel subsidies to get its own people to consume more of their finite resources.
Qatar has a similar situation. The women there are locked up in their homes, while the government exports its brand of Salafism to the rest of the world. In the United Arab Emirates, the people are sickly and confined to their homes. Of the Arab women, 40% have polycystic ovary syndrome, because of the pollution and the lifestyle. The UAE is home to Dubai, which I think we can agree is the best example of embarking on the wrong trajectory that one could imagine.
We can then look at some of the surviving European aristocracies. Monaco is governed by playboys who marry movie stars. Like its fellow feudal leftover Liechtenstein it mostly serves as a tax shelter. Their wealth, which took no effort to earn, has mostly lead them to become decadent, not unlike the Arab monarchies. We could also look at the British monarchy, where Prince Harry to me does not resemble the type of candidate for leadership one should hope for.
For the past few centuries, aristocracies have merely been leftovers of an ancient era, allowed to hold onto a ceremonial role, even after the monarch absorbed all power. It should be clear that the current aristocracies are all degenerated, as aristocracy once implied the responsibility to fight to preserve one’s throne.
This also ensured that their population was kept under control. The main reason France took such a prominent role in the first Crusade was because they had an excess of aristocrats who had a habit of bashing each other’s heads in every summer over some petty fiefdom.
But let’s pretend for a moment that aristocracy in its original form could be reintroduced. What interest does an aristocrat have in limiting his population? How does he defend himself against claimants to his titles, if he reduces his own source of wealth and manpower? We know that Louis XIV had a very pronatalist regime, that sought to encourage births among his people.
But let’s look further back. Any cliques that were ever antinatalist, like the Cathars in France were typically ruthlessly exterminated. The Catholic church actively prohibited contraception and the witch hunt seems to have been motivated by women’s ability to avoid conception through use of various methods of birth control. After the black death, the first thing people tried was to repopulate the nation.
We can pretend that aristocrats took care of nature, by creating forests where they could hunt, but I don’t really buy this argument. It was a seemingly universe responsibility of aristocrats to hunt for wolves on lands they were given. King Edward I ordered the complete and utter extermination of all wolves in his kingdom. Even as late as the 18th century, we find folk tales in Scotland where a man was rewarded by his chief for killing the last wolf in all of Scotland, by being given a plot of land.
In contrast to American libertarian types like Hoppe who idolize the concept of a monarchy because it’s something missing from their history, I live in a nation that’s still a monarchy and even has an aristocracy with some vestiges of power left. In my own town, some aristocratic type whose family used to take care of the horses of the monarch, embarked on a project to house the demented elderly in some old manor with an overdose of government subsidies. Suffice to say that this aristocrat turned businessman feels that this necessitates removing all the trees!
I have encountered some of these aristocrats, to me they appear to be a pretentious bunch, roleplaying as powerful lords over peasants like me. They also enjoy pretending to have fine tastes. One of these men chastised me, because I was wandering around on land owned by our Queen, without buying a map, which is their source of revenue. A few weeks later, this same man was photographed with his blue-blooded friends, shooting down an endangered species of bird that has a reputation as being a delicacy. They proceeded to claim that the bird died after hitting its head against a tree! This is in fact quite common here, the nobility treats these estates of them, artificially kept alive through tax exemptions, as private playgrounds for them to run around on with guns.
It seems to me that the best chance we have for degrowth is to make contraception and abortion available to more women. This has worked quite well in Eastern Europe, where women actually have more abortions than births and the population is plummeting. It goes without saying that this would have to be combined with tightly shut borders. It’s funny however that when you bring this up, all of the far-right types who daydream about eugenics and starving peasants then suddenly show up and proclaim the sanctity of life.
Similarly, we should encourage expanding access to euthanasia. We’re beginning to house an entire mass of elderly who are kept on a variety of psychotropic drugs, often unable to walk and gradually going blind from diabetes. In Japan, one in seventeen people will have dementia by 2017, isn’t that absurd? There is no point to keeping people in such a state of existence, other than the fact that it “creates jobs”, which merely demonstrates how backwards the logic of our society has become. Similarly, we should offer prisoners the option of euthanasia. Ultimately, existence itself should be something that people voluntarily choose for.
You have said that the aristocracy currently serve a ceremonial role. (a) Might their ineffectuality be a result of the deprivation of actual power? (b) Are there other factors that might be responsible for third-world nations like Saudi Arabia having trouble governing themselves? (c) Are there other reasons that Eastern Europe has had a population drop?
In regards to the aristocracy, it’s quite obvious that we can’t consider nations like Saudi Arabia to be representative of all aristocracies. However, these are the only places where aristocracies are still in power, so they are somewhat useful to study. We find that they seem mostly concerned with maintaining their own hold onto power, which is accomplished by sedating their oppressed populations with wealth and appeasing, beheading or exporting the religious fundamentalists.
This is not completely unlike what we would expect to see in hypothetical European aristocracies. It should tell us something that aristocracies have only remained in power in microstates that can survive through the tourism and tax-dodging industries. For whatever reason, the other European nations have no aristocracies with any serious power left, instead, what remained of the aristocracy has assimilated into the bourgeois class.
If we wished to restore the aristocratic system, we would have to restore the aristocratic obligations that accompanied it. I can’t say that I am particularly excited about the prospect of chronic low-level warfare in an era with nuclear weapons, dirty bombs, anthrax, Sarin, cluster bombs, mustard gas, landmines, etcetera.
Alternatively, without the obligations that accompany it, aristocracy would simply imply having a society where a small hereditary elite lives in gated communities and owns the means of production, while the vast majority of people are chronically impoverished. What does that sound like to you? To me it sounds like South America or South Africa.
What makes our era different from the medieval era is not so much our form of government, but rather our level of technology. Chainsaws, automobiles, crop rotation, synthetic fertilizer, pesticides, these are all technologies that enable us to exploit land that medieval people could not exploit. In addition, the fact that we have coal and natural gas ensures that we are less dependent on forests than medieval people, thus we lost our incentive to preserve our forests. For people in Africa and South America, there was little incentive to destroy the rainforests. Removing a rainforest typically creates a perfect habitat for malaria according to the studies that I have read.
When you talk about population, you are counting numbers, not specific people. Do you think this social engineering could backfire as the more intelligent cease breeding, as we have seen worldwide with the rise of the industrial/educated lifestyle?
It seems to me that our upper class typically already has access to methods of birth control the lower class doesn’t have access to. Look at a global map of abortion laws, you will find that nations without access to abortion are practically all third world nations, located in South America and Africa.
You’ll also find that contraception failure tends to happen far more often among the lower classes than among the upper classes. You can either address this through abortion, or accept a situation where most children born to the poor are born by accident, against the wishes of the mother.
Even within first world nations, abortion is more accessible to the rich than it is to the poor. Mississippi has just one abortion clinic. Religious fundamentalism tends to be more common among the poor, thus they tend to feel more guilty about abortions. Upper class parents will typically be more cooperative when their teenage daughter desires an abortion than lower class parents.
If you’re worried about the low birth rate among the intelligent as compared to the least intelligent, it makes sense to ask yourself first why intelligent people don’t seem to desire children. It’s quite universal that happier people are more prone to choose to have more children. It seems to me that we have built a society where intelligent people are profoundly unhappy.
What makes them so unhappy? I would imagine it has to do with the feeling of powerlessness they experience, as a result of their complete dependence on society, as gears in a machine. Their lives consist of constant obedience, under the threat of social ostracism as a consequence of a decline in status. Their group of friends tends to consist of others who manage to hold onto the same type of job or education tract as they do. A bad grade in college, showing up late to their cubicle, anything could lead them to lose what petty social status they have and end up dependent on welfare.
We can look at the Amish on the other hand, where we notice that those groups that use the least modern technology, tend to have the most children. Why is that? Because they are happier. They feel genuinely useful and competent, have control over their own lives and experience a direct connection between their labor and their ability to survive. It’s easier to motivate yourself to do something when not working means not eating.
People on welfare are also more fertile typically, but that’s again, largely due to the fact that they have more certainty in their lives and are probably happier than those who are not on welfare. Welfare dependency is a horror for middle-class white people, because of the stigma. If you are raised in an environment where welfare is normal, people can be quite content on welfare. Someone who receives welfare doesn’t have to worry about the potential to lose their job, whatever income they have is relatively stable.
Do you think genetics plays a role in the condition of Central and South America? How does that make the society differ from Europe under the aristocracy?
Genetics are a factor that allows such a wide disparity in wealth to emerge. However, proposing an aristocracy that owns most of the wealth means proposing the same outcome, but through different means.
This means you end up with a situation not extraordinarily different, with a small elite that owns most of the means of production and isolates itself in gated communities. The masses would somehow have to be kept under control, as their easiest source of income becomes kidnapping members of the elite.
There’s also the fact that you’d rather not have your children meet people who live in slums with untreated tuberculosis, or whose mothers work as prostitutes because they don’t receive welfare from the government.
Also important to note is that rampant wealth inequality leads to a disconnect between the usual price-demand relationship. Whereas rare resources normally become unpopular due to scarcity, under rampant inequality they become Veblen goods, goods that are popular because they are rare and allow you to show off your extreme wealth.
This is why rhinos are rapidly going extinct right now, as a new Chinese elite can afford these goods. Similarly, in the Arab monarchies we find that wealthy members of the elite keep animals like Leopards as pets and show them off on Instagram.
Rampant inequality also seems to contribute to destructive speculative bubbles, as people who are extremely wealthy begin to look for places where they can invest their money. Hence we see that cities like London are filled with houses that are owned by the Chinese, but never actually used.
As always, if there was any easy solution to all of our problems, we would have seen it implemented somewhere by now and the rest of the world would gradually follow suit. There exists no easy solution.
Are you saying that jobs are a source of our misery? If so, what replaces them? And how does this differentiate among different grades of ability?
Jobs can be a source of misery, but today it seems to me that jobs, along with internships and education, increasingly serve merely as part of an effort to treat the growing sense of ennui that affects citizens of the developed world. People feel the need to see their lives as being part of a bigger story, holding onto some sort of job helps them to feel as if their lives have a sense of purpose. In much of Europe, a significant section of the population would be financially better off being on welfare, as it means they don’t need a car to travel to their job and don’t need childcare.
The bigger problem comes from the fact that humans used to have their lives filled in by their environment, whereas now we have to fill the emptiness with something ourselves. If you’re cold you’d have to gather firewood, if you’re hungry you’d have to make a meal. People used to spend most of their days busy, engaged in one practice or another, all of which contributed to a meaningful goal, which was to survive. They typically did so in a social context, with people who were similar to them.
There are groups of Amish, who still gather ice for their ice house, where they keep food cold in winter. An outsider might think that there is some community leader, who declared decades ago that refrigerators fall under some particular definition that makes it forbidden for any member of his congregation to use a refrigerator under the threat of shunning. Instead when asked by a neighbor, they responded that they like doing it. In other words, the Amish preserve labor that feels fulfilling.
We on the other hand, seek to make labor more efficient, only to end up becoming wealthier on paper and filling our lives with various forms of labor we don’t like: Comparing health insurance plans, studying for exams, joining the board of some local charity because it looks good on your resumé, etcetera. Our ancestors did not have the type of tightly-knit communities the Amish had, nor did we have their prescience, thus we ended up dragged along by the train of progress, whereas the Amish were smart enough never to board in the first place.
We have ended up replacing work we like with work we don’t like. We enjoy acting, singing and dancing, but the television and the radio make this obsolete. We enjoy growing and harvesting food, but the machines made that obsolete. Practically everything we enjoy is something that once served a purpose, which makes sense when considering the process of evolution. We enjoy building our own houses, navigating through use of the stars, fishing and hunting, climbing mountains, etcetera. How many people are there, who genuinely enjoy filling numbers into spreadsheets, fooling old people into signing up for products they don’t need, operating a counter or cleaning toilets?
The answer to a bad job is a good job. Ideally there is not a single job we do, but many. This is possible when a job does not require years of specialization for someone to learn the task, which means that we should avoid automating work, as it replaces labor-intensive jobs by jobs that require very specific training. In addition, this ensures that children can participate in labor, rather than being forced to go to school. We have a distorted image of child labor, which we think inevitably means sending children into diamond mines. How many children would be traumatized by milking a cow?
So you see reducing inequality as a valuable role because you fear two halves to the cycle: rise of inequality, and then enforcement. What exactly is causing those who are less-equal to not achieve the same power on their own? Is there a mechanism outside of society to allow this? What held them back?
To me it seems that excess inequality destabilizes the governing order, in addition to not genuinely being of any benefit to a society’s elite, for reasons previously mentioned. Now when it comes to what causes some people to be poor while others are rich, four factors play a role. Personality, intelligence, luck and inheritance. It’s important to note here that poor people simply place less value on wealth and status than those at the top.
It’s similar to the mystery of nerds being unpopular. They believe themselves to care very much about their situation, but in reality, they accept it as the price worth paying for the type of lifestyle they desire to lead. This is part of the personality aspect of poverty. This might seem counter-intuitive, but it is nonetheless the case.
As a simple example, consider how many poor people would reject a suitor for their child because of their in-laws socioeconomic background. This is more likely to happen among the elite, even though the elite do not have to worry as much about how their child would get by with working class in-laws. There exists such a thing as a culture of poverty, but it is unfair to characterize it as solely a set of ways that people ought to unlearn. Instead it fundamentally represents a different value-orientation.
As much as the Dutch indigenous underclass might be fascinated by their royal overlords, the vast majority will tell you that they do not envy them at all. They perceive their plight as worse than their own, forced to put on a mask at all times and maintain an image of perfection. Economic freedom in human society can come at the cost of other forms of freedom more difficult to define.
Envy of the rich is something that the poor always have to be taught to some degree in our society, which happens through the media and the advertisement industry, though typically not intentionally so. To illustrate, imagine a script-writer revealing a women to be embarrassed by her new love’s job. She might not be consciously pushing an agenda, but simply writes about what she is familiar with herself.
The other three factors need less explanation, except perhaps a mention of the fact that it is easy to underestimate inheritance as a factor. Inheritance can take the form of simply growing up with more self-esteem as a result of your (grand)parents accomplishments. It can also take the role of meeting different people, automatically having a certain reputation, having educated parents who make sure you pick a useful major in college, etcetera.
Finally it should be noted that studies typically tend to find a relatively modest correlation between wealth and intelligence. Genuinely intelligent people tend to drop out of the rat race, especially in the absence of family pressure. The most intelligent people I’ve met universally seemed to slip into some degree of depression as young adults, typically prohibiting any genuine productivity. Others end up as artists of one form or another. I actually expect that certain developed countries may eventually observe a negative correlation between intelligence and income, in the absence of any significant black swans.
You seem to suggest a society based on a flat hierarchy and a nurture/developmental model. What are the advantages of this approach, and how does it avoid the entropy that our current society has steered itself into?
Well, the obvious answer here would be a return of natural selection. We seem to have developed our cognitive abilities, cultural values and our personality types in an environment where it was important to prepare for winter. It was important to know how to ferment food, to save sufficient food in preparation for winter, etcetera. Today no such preparation is genuinely necessary, as people have refrigerators and access to supermarkets. The absence of modern technology would quite rapidly lead to an environment that once again necessitates possession of those human attributes we value the most.
What’s the advantage of this? Well, so far no society seems to have succeeded in preserving the intelligence of its population. Intelligent people seem to be miserable in most modern societies and give birth to relatively few children, a problem governments seek to solve through maternity leave and other solutions, none of which have proved particularly successful. An overt eugenics program would still involve encouraging the reproduction of people who do not desire to reproduce as a result of their poor adaptation to an environment that effectively favors mediocrity.
Our modern environment inevitably favors specialists at the cost of generalists. We became intelligent, because we had to be capable of adaptation to a wide variety of different conditions and preparation for changing circumstances. The type of society we live in is based on stratification of labor, where everyone is encouraged to gain insight in one particular aspect of the modern industrial system’s functioning, as well as the generation of predictability through standardization.
Contrast the average modern working-bee with primitive man, before the Neolithic revolution. He would have to be capable of figuring out the working of the tides to gather shellfish. He would also have to figure out navigation at night through use of the stars. He would have to anticipate the changing of seasons, develop path-finding skills, craft tools, learn fermentation techniques, the preservation of meat, construction of shelter, how to use fire, understanding of medicinal herbs, distinguish between edible and inedible species of plant and mushroom, etcetera.
You’ve mentioned how being forced to be in positions of leadership is stressful and empty for the elites. Is this what went wrong with the West? What is the solution?
Well yes, it is certainly starting to be somewhat of a problem for the governing economic order. Young people who work at Goldman Sachs or some other bank are supposed to become the elite of the future, but they spend every day at work and derive relatively little pleasure from their “success”. Our governments are effectively bankrupt and seek to loot whatever wealth they can find, which means that the freebies handed to the upper class as a reward for governing society are gradually being taken away, at least in Europe.
There used to be such a thing as a “Jetset”, rich people who visited exclusive parties in far away cities. Today all of us can do that. Arguably the poor can now do it easier, as they can be temporarily absolved from their responsibilities. Is a portfolio manager ever genuinely free? How many rich people could genuinely camp in the wilderness for two weeks without electricity or a cell phone?
It’s said that the life expectancy gap between the rich and the poor is growing again, but what does that genuinely mean? It used to be that the life expectancy gap meant dying in your fifties from black lung disease and leaving behind a widow and children. Today it means you’ll spend a few less years with dementia. People who think inequality is growing are staring themselves blind at the wealth on paper of the 0.1%, created by our stock market bubble. There’s laughably little available to the elite that’s not available to you.
I think it’s a stretch however, to proclaim that this is what went wrong with the West. It causes certain challenges for the bureaucrats tasked with avoiding any icebergs that might crash this ship. It doesn’t do anything however to explain the frightening mentality of our people. The mentality we see is one of lethargy, pessimism and a lack of self-confidence, even more so among our ruling elite.
A portion of the American population supports Trump, not because of his policies or perceived competence, but simply because he projects energy, masculinity and self-confidence in a fashion Winston Churchill once did. Hence we see his poll numbers surge every time he refuses to apologize. He’d probably become more like a politician if he ends up genuinely ruling the country and discovers that none of the problems have a simple solution. Note that George W. Bush seems to have become depressed too after his two terms in office. It’s unusual for an adult man to make paintings of himself in the shower.
Chancellor Merkel to me appears to be genuinely mentally ill. You can listen to her voice over the past few months and you can hear the tiredness, as if she has given up on life. The President of the European Commission, Claude Juncker, can be seen drunk on video comparing ties and slapping politicians in the face. For the regular people collapse might comes as a shock, but those in the know can typically be seen drowning their sorrow in advance.
In Germany, after the mass assault of women in Cologne by asylum seekers, the local police declared that most of the perpetrators will probably not be prosecuted, because they do not have enough people available. What does this mentality tell us about the psychology of the German people?
Note that there is no longer any real connection to reality in any of our political decisions either. We decide in Paris to seek to keep the global temperature rise limited to 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial, in spite of climatologists declaring in Nature that a 2 degree limit is probably hopeless by now. This increasingly begins to resemble Hitler moving non-existent armies in his bunker.
When asked what went wrong with the West I’d have to preface any answer with the disclaimer that civilization itself is a mistake, but it seems quite clear to me that life in post-industrial service economies creates certain unique problems on its own, which are more difficult to comprehend.
One problem policymakers face is that they feel powerless. A medieval king could feel as if he genuinely had some sense of control over a situation. Today it is increasingly clear however, that policymakers are merely peddling on a raft descending down a stormy river. It is technology that decides the outcome of our situation and this leaves policymakers feeling powerless and frightened.
Consider nuclear proliferation. They will declare that North Korea, Iran and other third world dictatorships should have no nuclear weapons, but what power do they genuinely have to enforce this desire? Most of the knowledge is public, the hardest work has been done already. It’s inevitable that such nations will gain access to nuclear weapons.
They face mass unemployment generated by technology, with no clear idea what they can do about it. Entire American towns will become deserted when the first self-driving trucks hit the road, while the business models of clothing stores, taxi companies and hotels are becoming obsolete. They have no idea what to do about it. It shouldn’t come as a shock that they feel frustrated and weak.
Similarly, policymakers increasingly don’t earn their spurs. Countries used to be ruled by war heroes and winners of revolutions. Our countries are ruled by bureaucrats, who spent the first thirty years of their lives studying. This simply creates a different mentality. College doesn’t create tough leaders, it creates people who have to walk around in public with a diaper to gain access to the right fraternity. It wouldn’t shock me if some of them still wake up at night with nightmares about forgetting to sign up for a particular course.
What did primitive tribes do to produce strong leaders? They had different right of passage rituals. They sent their young out to fend for themselves in the wilderness, had vision quests, periods of fasting and scarification rituals. That requires having pristine wilderness around of course, which we generally don’t have anymore, as everything is now crossed by roads.
What they certainly didn’t do is march a group of young people around in public wearing diapers, or have them sit down blindfolded as they have eggs thrown at them. Note that all of our present day rituals revolve around generating emotionally dependent people, always in need of external validation. That’s not an accident, it fits the type of society we have created. The EU probably sends leaders of its member states a report card featuring a ten with a smiley in the zero when they keep their budget deficit below three percent.
I remember a centre left politician here who got upset and quit Twitter after someone further to the left asked him if Anne Frank would have been given refugee status under our current laws. It’s quite clear that their biggest fear consists of being perceived as “bad people”. I think we would benefit from having politicians who are capable of withstanding such external social pressure. They should listen to valid arguments, but they certainly shouldn’t be affected by emotional manipulation or social shaming techniques.
This requires a sense of self-confidence however that our people don’t have anymore. How to forge such self-confident people is a more difficult question. Knowledge of their heritage seems to help. Education about their pre-Christian heritage, when submission was not yet a virtue, would certainly benefit our people.
Ultimately, the big problem is that growing up in a society characterized by complete interdependence inevitably breeds a particular type of person. History lessons can’t compensate for food from a microwave and central heating in winter. I’d love to see leaders who had to chop firewood in winter and gather shellfish in winter to eat, but that’s not going to happen.
Consider the polar opposite of today’s politicians, Adolph Hitler. He was abused by his father, suicidal, lived homeless on the streets of Austria and was wounded in the first world war. His background quite clearly was the polar opposite of our modern elite too. We would benefit from a balance, leaders not entirely treated with kid gloves.
Why do you think people transitioned from a hunter-gatherer existence to an agricultural one in the first place?
This is a question that has been more or less settled in the scientific literature. The first thing to note is that land under cultivation can typically feed far more people than the same land could if left intact. This means that whatever group of people successfully adopts agriculture has a massive advantage over any neighboring groups that don’t practice agriculture.
The bigger question is why agriculture began when it did. The answer to this question lies in the fact that the end of the last glacial period led to the Holocene, which was characterized by unusual climatic stability. Human underestimate how dependent we are on a stable climate. The Holocene saw much smaller interdecadal variability in temperatures and precipitation rates that the Pleistocene that preceded it.
This allowed people to embark on the process of developing agriculture, which involved dependence on a single crop capable of thriving under limited environmental circumstances. Without the unusually stable climate of the Holocene, this would not have succeeded.
Agriculture then underwent somewhat of a positive feedback loop. Deforestation caused by agriculture put more carbon dioxide in the temperature, which helped keep temperatures high enough to preserve the Holocene climatic conditions, at least according to the early Anthropocene hypothesis. Without this massive deforestation, we would have slipped back into a glacial period (popularly referred to as an ice age).
Do you think the ratio of intelligence in a society, and/or its average, determines the future of that society?
I don’t think this is a dominant factor in the long term. Rather, the level of intelligence of a population adjusts to the level that society requires to function. A relatively low level of intelligence is needed for our society to function, as modern technology made our lives simpler.
The highest level of intelligence appears to be needed in small bands of nomadic hunter-gatherers living in temperate climates. A high level of flexibility is needed for such groups, in addition to an ability to reinvent the wheel (not literally) on a continual basis. As population density rises, specialization of labor and the transmission of knowledge becomes more prominent, thus the level of intelligence needed to survive begins to decline.
The level of overall intelligence required for groups of hunter-gatherers that do not witness significant changes in the availability of food sources during the changing of seasons appears to be slightly lower than among those that do. Some cognitive skills, such as spatial orientation, seem to have become far better developed among some of these groups however.
Is intelligence — and with it, technology — our enemy?
This is not what I would argue. The main problem humans face is the fact that they are capable of changing their environment more rapidly through use of technology than they can adapt to said changes through the process of evolution.
Fortunately for us, the laws of physics have created somewhat of a ceiling to the degree of power that technological innovations can grant us over our environment. Our collective power as a species depends on our control over a source of energy, but the amount of energy we have been granted is somewhat limited.
Most importantly, the laws of physics prohibit us from storing energy in an effective manner. The energy we were granted as a coming of age gift, fossil fuels, are very useful, in that they also serve as their own storage medium. As our planet warms up and we all find ourselves forced to move away from the equator, this inability we have to effectively store the energy we generate ourselves merely becomes a bigger problem.
Ultimately, this means that the crisis generated by technology is one that solves itself. It will leave a massive catastrophe behind that we will need to cope with however.
Is there any solution other than undoing the agricultural revolution and fixed civilization?
Well, you could aim to eliminate our fossil carbon emissions, to preserve the type of climatic conditions that existed before the industrial revolution. That’s going to be essential and yet incredibly difficult, which is why half the population prefers to pretend that the problem does not even exist.
How would we go about this? We’d have to tackle our use of pesticides, which are made from petroleum. Note that this is not as easy as it might sound. You can’t simply “go back” to how we used to do things. We’re in an arms race with Mother Nature, where we come up with new tricks, needed for us to beat Her new tricks. Our new tricks however, tend to involve the use of non-renewable resources.
In 1978 there were 49 known pathogens that infected chickpeas, by 1995 we were looking at 172, thanks to the fact that we no longer have any effective borders and anything human or non-human can freely spread across the world. To cope with all these new pathogens that infect our plants, we decided to utilize large amounts of pesticides.
Now part of the problem is admittedly that modern agriculture relies on plants with far less genetic diversity than those we once used. We could theoretically go back to using a more diverse set of crops, so that the pathogens that plague our domesticated crops have less of a chance to decimate our fields.
The problem however, is that we can’t go back to something that already went extinct. Most of the domesticated plant varieties we used before the industrial revolution have gone extinct. To give some numbers, 90% of the wheat varieties used in China in the last century are now extinct, while 93% of all seed varieties sold in the United States in 1903 were extinct by 1983.
It should be quite clear from the above that we face a biodiversity crisis in agriculture. This means that the genetically modified industrial agriculture that you see heavily pushed on sites like Reddit is part of the problem, rather than the solution, as genetic modification merely further reduces biodiversity of our crops.
If we can preserve agriculture in the long-term, which is questionable to say the least, what we will need to do is transition to a form of food production that resembles pre-industrial agriculture far more than anything we currently know. Farmers would reuse their own seeds to rebuild biodiversity, there would be no synthetic pesticides and monoculture would probably have to be abandoned too, which would mean that agriculture would become far more labor intense.
If we continue practicing agriculture for thousands of years, we will probably evolve into something quite different from the type of animals we currently are. We might start to resemble naked mole-rats more, with a few individuals reproducing, while the rest behave in a subordinate manner and show no interest in sex.
Our level of intelligence would also probably continue its ongoing decline. An octopus is intelligent, so that it can utilize the variety of hunting techniques that it does. Similarly, corvids are very intelligent, as they are omnivores who specialize in disturbed terrains. Agriculture on the other hand doesn’t really seem to require very intelligent animals, an ant is not the smartest animal out there. Instead, it secretes certain chemicals from its paws that kill pathogens that harm the fungi that it cultivates.
Of course all of the above is hypothetical and depends on us succeeding at stabilizing our climate. If we radically change our climate, we probably won’t even get the chance to develop a sustainable form of agriculture.
Why do you think these problems were in nascent form prior to 1789, and have exploded rapidly since?
I don’t think 1789 is a very crucial year. You might as well pick 1776. The point to understand however is that our world has changed very rapidly over the past 200 years or so as a result of the type of lifestyle that industrialization creates. Most of us are forced into massive cities. Our children are kept in schools where they are taught abstract knowledge that most of them will never put to any real use, which also isolates adults from the only ones who still have some innocence and spontaneity.
We have no sense of power, as we can’t genuinely take care of ourselves and depend on giant corporations interlocked with the government to provide for us. We’re continually confronted in the media with vague images of how life could be. People live far longer lives than necessary, living to an age where they would normally become matriarchs or patriarchs, but end up socially isolated television addicts instead.
Half the population is overweight, most of them can’t face themselves in the mirror without a sense of self-hate. People live surrounded by others with whom they increasingly have nothing in common. Millions of lives reduced to cubicle-concubinage and asking permission to go to the toilet have led to a crisis of masculinity. People can’t look out of the window in their little concrete box without seeing and hearing cars, airplanes, skyscrapers, powerlines and (dare I say it?) wind turbines, a synthetic landscape complete under the control of man.
We have the haunting suspicion that our job serves no purpose or actually makes the world worse. People’s lives are empty, they can’t shake off the feeling that their existence serves no real purpose. Most of us spend every day dealing with intellectual abstractions, far removed from anything that makes sense on an intuitive level.
Social pressure is continually rising, as everyone is forced to jump through an ever increasing number of hoops that serve to test our obedience. College became the new high school degree, now even the typical adult continually has to earn new certificates to prove that he can still carry out his busywork.
We are all petty office clerks now. I think that’s the industrial lifestyle in a nutshell. Did I miss anything?
How do you separate the effects of liberalism from the effects of industrial society? The two arose together.
That depends on the particular effect we’re discussing. I will agree that it can be difficult in some aspects of modern society. As an example, did liberalism cause the spread of free trade, or did industrialization cause it?
One useful rule of thumb however is to ask yourself: Can I think of a society that doesn’t have this problem? If liberalism caused a particular problem, we would expect it to be non-existent or far less common in societies that are less liberal. If industrialization caused the problem, we would expect to observe it in all industrialized societies.
Thus, some significant problems can be traced back to liberalism, while others can’t. Consider mass immigration. It’s quite clear this can’t be blamed on industrial society. South Korea, Eastern Europe and Japan don’t have these problems, despite having far worse problems with declining populations than Western Europe does. Quite clearly, the problem lies in a mindset that’s prominent in the Western world.
Do you think industrial society would have arisen as it has without leftism?
I’m quite convinced it would have arisen yes. Here are some factors that were important:
- The introduction of the potato, crop rotation and a few other agricultural innovations led to the type of population density that necessitates growing urban settlements and provides sufficient scale advantages to an increasing number of technological innovations.
- The enclosures and the highland clearances in Britain forced large masses of people from the countryside to the cities, with no way of taking care of themselves. This wasn’t a case of leftism in action, but rather, a case of aristocrats betraying their own people.
- Aggressive persecution of luddites.
- Deforestation forced a switch to the use of coal for many purposes, the utilization of which had previously been banned.
You say “we are all office clerks now.” Does this explain how our expansion of wealth and technology has not reduced working hours? What do you think the effects are of this condition on the modern psyche?
I suspect that the maximum power principle plays a role in our failure to reduce our time spent working. We could blame the protestant work ethnic, if it weren’t for the fact that East Asians spend even more time working than we in the west. Even the Greeks seem to spend more time working.
The effects on the modern psyche should be quite clear, a life spent engaged in busywork leads to existential depression, provided you’re intelligent enough to recognize the fact that you’re engaged in busywork.
I just saw a Varg Vikernes interview where he says, “Boycott the (false) church of satan! Or let’s call it the church of atheism, humanism and individualism…” — why do you think those three cluster together? Are they mistakes or victories?
They all seem a product of the culture of narcissism that Christopher Lasch talked about. What’s the difference between Laveyan Satanism, Objectivism and Capitalism? I’m not entirely sure, to me it all looks like different names for the same mindset: Pursuing your own individualistic self-interest.
It might seem counter-intuitive, but in practice that leads to the type of cooperation seen in our civilization, whereas self-sacrifice for a higher purpose destabilizes civilization. People who are selfish and rational display behavior that’s relatively easy to predict. People who have a purpose in life higher than their own happiness or who happen to be irrational are far more difficult to deal with. This is also why irrational behavior persists among humans.
This selfishness is probably one of the biggest problems we face in our culture. It hides under a variety of different names. I remember posting a link on a feminist forum, to a feminist website about the function of human breasts. It argued that they are designed for breast-feeding and that their aesthetic appeal to men seems to be mostly a cultural phenomenon that’s actually unusual in African cultures. The response was one of anger: “How dare you suggest that my breasts are for babies, rather than for ME!”
Importantly, selfishness also hides behind the face of altruism. The socially popular variety that is. Someone who can be seen with their face in a magazine helping the poor is proving rather than disproving their fundamental selfishness. Even Jesus figured this out. Hence why in some radical circles, people are not interested in anything you’ve ever done if you haven’t served any jail-time for it.
I have more respect for neonazis, precisely because they are the most reviled people out there. People willing to turn themselves into social pariahs, seen as intrinsically evil by their environment, defending an ideology that clearly has no realistic chance of ever again becoming politically dominant, must be willing to make a great sacrifice for the ideas they hold true.
Why do you think it is that our elites, the same ones who support heavy industrialization, also support the idea of fighting climate change?
Because they’re not complete psychopaths that want to turn the planet into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. They realize that this is a big problem that could end up biting them in the ass. Might I add that it took them roughly eighty years to acknowledge this, that’s roughly the time span between the discovery of the greenhouse effect and their acknowledgment that it might be creating a massive problem. Until the 1980’s or so, people assumed that the ocean would simply deal with the problem for us!
It might be that recognition of the potential destruction of our world by ozone depletion, a threat that was narrowly avoided, opened up their minds to the potential for similar destruction caused by fossil carbon emissions.
It could be argued that they don’t genuinely take the problem serious. They’re bright greens, that is, the type of people who think that electric cars, biodegradable plastic, artificial trees and other silicon valley toys will save us from the disaster we have created. A critic (like I am) could argue that they believe the laws of physics to have been finely tuned to support the eternal expansion of man’s dominion over the universe.
If the problem was a population explosion, how was that the fault of aristocrats, and how was their response anything other than compassionate?
The argument here isn’t that the population explosion was the fault of aristocrats. Rather, the argument proposed here is that in Great Britain, local aristocrats seized land for themselves and deported the peasants who until then inhabited the land, because they figured out they could make more money without keeping the peasants around.
All of this led to a labor surplus that enabled the industrial revolution. I have to suggest reading up on this subject. The important point to comprehend here is that people didn’t voluntarily move to the cities and spend every day together with their children operating dangerous machinery, they did this because their livelihoods had been taken away from them.
Our modern culture has the tendency to depict everything that we do as a voluntary choice. We’re also forced to depict our own choices as voluntary, because nobody wants to hire someone who works against his will. Thus stories like the enclosures and the highland clearances are forgotten too, we genuinely end up believing that the industrial revolution is something our ancestors chose to participate in.
Do you see a difference between busywork of the modern sort and spending your life doing mundane tasks on a farm? Is it possible that, before the busywork came in, there were evolutionary advantages to complex tasks, specialization and learning to socialize?
In my experience, people who feel that physical labor is beneath them tend to be insecure about their own intellect or fearful of how others might perceive them. This mentality is common among that section of the working class brainwashed into adapting the cultural values of the bourgeoisie.
I’m not sure what you consider to be mundane tasks on a farm. I have quite fond memories of harvesting potatoes, walnuts, blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries, red currant, black currant and pumpkins myself. When the body is occupied, the mind is left free to wander.
A bourgeois existence means that the mind is continually kept enchained. Things we find pleasurable are perverted by the introduction of obligations. Who doesn’t remember the assignments he got when visiting a museum as a child? This is sufficient to keep an entire generation of young people away from museums.
I’ve seen cases of suicide in my country, of young good-looking healthy Frisian boys, who wanted to carry out physical labor but found there to be none available to them. There was no real option available to them other than to follow some petty education tract, so they decided to commit suicide instead.
As soon as the industrial revolution began, we saw attempts to reverse it. In Mein Kampf Hitler bemoans the expansion of the city population at the cost of the peasantry. Germans were taught how “the Jews” forced the Germans to move to the city, by bankrupting them with loans. The Germans encouraged mass migration of young people away from the cities into the countryside, to perform agricultural labor.
The whole Nazi movement originates out of the Wandervogel, an anti-industrial reaction which consisted of young people wandering around through the countryside, engaging in promiscuity, dressing up with feathers in their hair and living a feral existence. The Lebensreform movement that was assimilated by the Nazis still survives today. Hitler, who was once a homeless Bohemian hipster himself, more or less turned his back to this anti-industrial romantic mentality as a consequence of the world war.
Later on we saw an ambitious attempt by the Khmer Rouge to create an agrarian utopia, by killing millions of people. It didn’t work of course, but hey, at least they tried. Primitive agriculture sadly can’t quite compete with the modern industrial monocultures, owned by people who resemble businessmen more than farmers. As a result, all of these utopian experiments tend to fail.
Do you think the world will uniformly convert to the new pre-agrarian model, or will there be some who retain technologies to rule the rest?
It should be quite clear that agriculture will prove to be unsustainable at different moments in different parts of the world. In temperate climates at locations near rivers, agriculture would probably end up sustained for a longer period of time than it will be in Papua New Guinea, Iran or Saudi Arabia. Much of the world can only sustain agriculture thanks to modern technologies.
When it comes to people retaining technologies that will be used to rule the rest of us, I wouldn’t bet my money on this happening. We know that guns can survive a collapse of civilization quite well, while tanks, drones and airplanes have a much harder time doing so. Guns had an effect in history that decentralized power, from aristocrats to the general people. Hence why Japan rejected guns.
Anthropologists have looked at primitive societies and studied what causes hierarchy to emerge among them. There need to be food producing resources available that people can claim and enforce ownership over. If people after the collapse of civilization live like refugees in Europe currently do, eating wild mushrooms and berries and sleeping in makeshift tents, how much power will anyone be capable of enforcing over them? You can kill them, sure, but can you make them pay taxes?
Even today, the sexual harassment of women in Köln isn’t genuinely prosecuted, because the police claim to have insufficient personnel available. What happens when most people live like them, moving around from place to place?
You might imagine that one nation or another will thrive while every other society collapses, but this fails to acknowledge how interconnected our global economic order is. If you need help with a product you bought, you’re connected to people in India. Most products you buy say “made in China”. The internet servers your favorite websites use are located in other countries.
It seems that the collapse of civilization could trigger such unimaginable chaos that any sense of control becomes an illusion. The collapse of a single dam in Iraq could kill 500,000 people. Places that have nuclear power plants or pesticide factories like the one seen in Bhopal would be even worse off. Water has to be actively pumped out of most of the Netherlands, when it isn’t people’s houses end up underwater.
If diabetics don’t receive their insulin, or prison guards don’t show up to work, well, you can guess what happens. If Moscow loses heating in winter, or Arizona loses electricity in the middle of summer, make a guess what happens. When survival becomes a full-time job, who has any time left to boss others around?
In your view, people moved to the cities because they were displaced, not because they opted for stronger opportunities and less restriction by caste. Does your theory alone explain the growth of cities?
Their displacement didn’t emerge out of nowhere either mind you, the displacement became economically attractive as a result of prior innovations that reduced the usefulness of peasants for labor to elites.
It doesn’t seem to me that most people are genuinely interested in escaping their caste, at least not in feudal European societies. This seems like a bourgeois affliction more than anything. They desire to usurp the aristocracy, due to the inherent misery of a bourgeois existence. Contrary to what everyone seems to think, European peasants typically had a quite decent life.
Even today this typically seems to be something forced from the top upon the rest of society. To continue its perpetual growth addition, China wants to move 250 million peasants from the countryside to the cities in 12 years.
The idea of looking for opportunities also strikes me as distinctly bourgeois. I come from a working class environment, it’s quite clear to me that most poor people are not looking for “opportunities”. Most poor people desire to be left alone.
They want their communities to remain isolated from the neighboring cities. If they can fish in the local river, play some simple card games with their neighbors and have a loyal family, they can be quite content. The poor are blessed, because they can be content with very little. In this sense they have changed very little over hundreds of years. It typically requires “education” and propaganda to make them strife for more.
It’s the bourgeois middle classes that are always looking for the latest “opportunities”, that allow them to jump an inch ahead of the other rats stuck in the rat race, forever stuck in a competition over who can peddle the most useless goods to the masses.
They are convinced that man can create his own salvation, yet every step along the way has made their lives a little more miserable, until finally we have reached the stage where they now wholeheartedly embrace the extinction of their own essence.
Assuming that industrial civilization somehow did survive, how much land should be left natural and how could it achieve that?
That’s not a bad question, but it’s a difficult one to form a sensible answer to. I could pick a number based on how misanthropic I feel today, but there’s little use in that for anyone I would imagine, its main use would be in feeding my own power fantasies. Note that we are implicitly assuming here the existence of some sort of world government with unprecedented power that allows it to prohibit economic growth.
There are a number of questions we immediately find ourselves confronted with. What impact still qualifies as natural? How much do we wish to change the land we decide to dominate ourselves? What kind of sci-fi technology will somehow allow civilization to survive? Did civilization stabilize atmospheric CO2 concentrations at 450 ppm, or higher? What value do we place on the preservation of biodiversity? How do those poor humans stuck in industrial civilization wish to live and how many of them are there?
It’s not much use talking about land. We could choose to occupy 50% of the Sahara desert and it would probably have very little negative impact on other lifeforms. What we are competing over is photosynthetic capacity. We want to dominate land that’s currently shared between non-human lifeforms, using the soil those lifeforms built to produce food for ourselves using species we domesticated.
The main point here to understand is that the dichotomy between man and nature is itself a problem that has to be resolved. Arguing over how much room we should leave for nature is missing the forest for the trees. We’re supposed to enrich life, not be a burden on the rest of the planet that merely pursues its own interests.
If you could envision an ideal state, with humanity having the cultural advantages provided by civilization, what would it look like?
Culture serves a variety of purposes to humans, but I don’t see culture as having any real inherent value outside of our own human ability to enjoy it. Increasingly, most of our modern culture serves to replace experiences with depictions of said experiences. That’s what video games and most modern movies are.
Importantly, I think humans need the ability to make culture, in addition to the ability to enjoy culture. If humans live in a large complex civilization, where numerous books have been written that we will never get to read, there is increasingly no purpose to us creating something of our own. I hope that future generations will not be turned into passive consumers, burdened with the inability to surpass our own achievements because we felt the need to dominate the future.
I think it’s pretentious for us to argue that civilization should not collapse, because God forbid people might miss out on Beethoven or the Illiad and the Odyssey. Who really cares about a bunch of people stealing each others slave girls? Elite culture is thoroughly overrated by people who desperately want to be seen as sophisticated, while most folk culture has not been preserved. What little medieval folk tunes have been preserved sound more enjoyable to me than the classical composers that our upper classes enjoyed. Except for Rameau’s Les Sauvages from Les Indes galantes, obviously, but that’s an exception to the general rule.
With that said, I think most of the cultural advantages that industrial civilization provides are necessary only because of the type of conditions that industrial civilization creates in our lives. The romantics began to paint landscapes, because the industrial revolution was destroying the countryside. We live in a modern landscape governed by rationalism and thus we use culture to escape from the constraints placed upon our minds by our society.
So what sort of ideal state do we want? I think the ideal state is already emerging. There’s sufficient paper stored around the world and we all have sufficient pens and pencils lying around that people could write down whatever they want in the coming centuries, they won’t have to sit around writing with a stick in the sand, provided they don’t burn it all to stay warm in the winter. Eventually they might have to return to cave paintings, but that won’t be necessary anytime soon I would expect. I think that covers literature.
When it comes to music, I’m alright with most music being lost. People will have to make do with the violins and guitars we have today. I imagine it would sound a bit like Dornenreich’s neofolk album, or the anarchists in the trains in the East. They will also have giant buildings that will serve to produce reverberation that makes a lot of music more enjoyable.
If those are all destroyed, they will have not just natural caves, but also the various artificial caves we produced, whether we’re talking about metro stations, bunkers, or abandoned coal mines. It will be very interesting for them to explore those abandoned complexes of ours.
If we release a lot of nuclear weapons, black fungi will grow in such underground caves and bunkers, as that’s where the radiation will end up and some fungi are capable of utilizing such radiation to thrive. There are actually black fungi growing in Chernobyl that eat the radiation. Perhaps some rodents similar to naked-mole rats, who are practically immune to cancer, will thrive in our underground complexes, feeding on the black fungi that will grow there. We might even imagine that humans would then survive by hunting those rats.
I used to think that losing electronic music is a shame, but electronic music is enjoyable mostly because of the type of landscape we happen to live in, which is stressful and filled with a variety of annoying noises. Electronic music will thus be lost, but so be it. I can’t say that I care much for classical music, which will also be lost.
People will squat in abandoned buildings and entertain themselves in the same way that I entertain myself, which is by looking at old objects that we once made and trying to decipher something about our culture from them. The fact that we currently do everything digitally will create somewhat of a mystery for many of them, as they will find relatively few encyclopedias for example.
There’s little more enjoyable than reading old newspapers or playing old video games that tried to tell a story. I’m sure future generations will have a pleasant time trying to figure out what happened to us. Note that they won’t agree on what broke the camel’s back exactly.
They’ll notice some of our cities are underwater by then and that the climate changed, but even today opinions are divided on what’s causing our economies to fall apart. Is it dysgenics and mass immigration, or global warming and peak oil? I wish I could see the exciting debates that they will have among themselves. I’m sure the Romans would have been interested too in our modern debates on what went wrong with them.
A lot of global genetic biodiversity is being lost right now, but one thing that clearly won’t be lost are drugs. In fact, the more our society goes to hell, the more people become interested in finding a way to escape the misery. People everywhere are using DIY kits to grow magic mushrooms, others are growing cannabis and tobacco in their gardens, yet others are brewing beer. It should be interesting to see what people will come up with.
Altogether, I’m not really worried about all of the culture that will soon be lost. Rather, I’m excited about all the strange things that we are accidentally leaving behind for future generations. They will get to create and experience things that are difficult for us to imagine right now.
Why do you not describe yourself as a liberal?
I’m socially liberal, to some degree. I don’t believe that people’s behavior that doesn’t harm others (humans and non-humans) should be regulated. If people want to own guns, use drugs, take euthanasia pills or abort fetuses, I’m not stopping them. In fact, I’d probably encourage all four of those options.
I think liberalism is best used to describe ideologies that strive for maximum economic growth. More right-wing forms of liberalism strive for maximum GDP of their nation, more left-wing forms of liberalism strive for maximum median GDP per capita. The emphasis always lies on growth in some form however.
I reject the idea that our salvation is going to be found in material wealth, brought about by technological progress. Instead, it’s going to be found in non-material values: Struggle, sacrifice, love, belonging, family, nature, etcetera. The iPhone 6 does not fit into that list.
I see Nicolas de Condorcet as having given birth to modern liberalism. There were others before him that championed individual rights, but that’s not unique to liberalism. Unique to liberalism is the faith that it places in mankind’s ability to bring about his own salvation. Nicolas de Condorcet basically wrote a manifesto that proclaimed our ability to do so. As anti-liberals, we can all agree on the need to accept deference to something higher than ourselves. It can be God, or Nature, but it can also be the tribe.
If democracy falls for political reasons, can the future you describe be averted or circumnavigated?
I’m not sure why you would want to avert the future I describe. The collapse of global civilization will essentially reveal the failure of liberal thinking to the whole world. It will be the funeral of human arrogance.
But let’s see if we can do a thought experience and see if it’s possible for non-democratic governments to avoid the future I describe, because this does clearly pique your interest, despite my own skepticism. We first have to establish one fact, which is that whatever post-apocalyptic future I describe to you, could still theoretically be more desirable than the type of society we have to create to avoid losing civilization altogether.
We can first establish that we will have to decarbonize our economy. If we want to pretend that global warming is a hoax, we still have the problems that our oceans are acidifying and that carbon dioxide changes the behavior of fungi that infect our crops, as well as lowering the protein content of the plants we grow, in addition to accelerating the rate at which our concrete falls apart.
Even if we deny all of those problems, we are still left with the problem that the fossil fuels we are using do not last forever. Germany is removing entire villages to use its last brown coal deposits, a satellite image of their land shows horrible yellow gaps in the landscape. We’re not planning on drilling in the Arctic or removing Canadian boreal forest to keep our engineers busy, we’re doing that because this is where the last oil is to be found.
Decarbonizing the economy could probably be accomplished much faster under a dictatorship. We would start by outlawing deep bottom trawling in the oceans. In fact, other than gathering seaweed, sustainably grown shellfish and (maybe) jellyfish, we’d have no business in the ocean whatsoever. We might try to build artificial reefs with concrete waste, if this proves to be useful.
The shellfish industry would grow very rapidly, this would become the only meat most people ever eat. The shellfish would serve to recover the nutrients that leak from our soils, in addition to providing us with an incredibly amount of protein produced per square kilometer, 100 times more per unit of land than the cattle industry can deliver.
As the oceans recover, so does their ability to produce dimethylsulfide, which generates clouds that we will depend on for rain and the blocking sunlight. What is scary isn’t just global warming, what’s scary is global warming combined with our human ability to damage most of the natural mechanisms that the Earth uses to regulate its own temperatures.
Similarly, on land we would greatly curb all forms of energy use. Airplanes would effectively become a thing of the past, as would private car ownership. Heating your house is something that you will never do again. It’s January and my home isn’t heated, I’m happily sitting here in the cold.
Repatriation of third world immigrants would be encouraged. We have to remember that people who are all stuck living together in the same overpopulated nation end up having to rely on less efficient energy sources. The fact that city dwellers have a lower footprint than those in the countryside misses the point. A country like Norway, that might otherwise make use of hydropower alone, ends up having to supplement with fossil fuels.
Voluntary euthanasia would be encouraged too, for various reasons. Consumption of resources by people who can only use such resources to experience meaningless suffering is a tragedy. This would also free up the young people now tasked with caring for them in various ways, who we will need for labor-intensive low-carbon food production.
Those elderly who do not desire euthanasia will have to fully participate in society to the best of their ability. This will give them more meaningful lives and avoid the problem of social isolation they now face. The concept of retirement will cease to exist. There will be no modern aristocracy hanging around on boats in the Mediterranean or blowing their savings in bed and breakfast hotels. In exchange, we will ensure that whatever work is preserved is genuinely something that people can enjoy.
Rearranging paperwork will be a thing of the past. Instead the elderly will garden, produce wooden furniture, knit clothing, repair broken tools, take care of children and perform other jobs that are still within their ability. In Victorian England, simply waking up others was a job the elderly had to do.
Similarly, the vast majority of children will not go to school. They will be taught basic literacy and math skills by their own community, but most children will never need specialized knowledge because there will be very few specialized jobs. Instead most children will help their community. Older siblings will babysit younger siblings, yet others will gather wood, make clothing, make food or help with agricultural labor. Participating in the adult world to the best of their ability will make the children happier.
Most of our modern technology would have to be abandoned. Solar energy and wind energy would be used, but not in the way we currently do, where we convert mechanical power into electricity, which is then converted into heat or mechanical power again, a very wasteful process. Instead, we will simply use mechanical windmills for a variety of tasks, to mill grain and wash clothing to name two examples.
We will have to accept that we can not have everything we desire at the same time. If there is no energy available and no other work that needs to be done, people will play card games with each other, make music or perform other activities they enjoy. Medieval peasants spent most of the winter doing hardly any real work, most of the time was spent asleep.
Finally, most people would have to be kept from having children. Only those who can truly thrive in a frugal existence will have more than one child. Someone who desires an automobile, a diet rich in beef and/or a computer in his house, might find that society does not feel that it is capable of coping with the prospect of their reproduction.
On the other hand, there will be those who are capable of making the most sacrifices. Luxury does not appeal to them. They will work hard without boasting about it, not because they desire to benefit themselves but see that their community needs help. Those will be the ones society would wish to see reproduce.
Note that with elderly and the young participating, errors in labor will be accepted. Maximum efficiency will not be a concern. The more technologically complicated a society becomes, the fewer errors in labor it can tolerate. We can tolerate some child gathering wet firewood by accident or grandma dropping a glass, but can we tolerate someone making an error while operating a nuclear reactor? The inhuman pressure people face in their jobs that causes large numbers to end up dropping out from the labor force and become burdens on society instead will come to an end.
Altogether, the scenario I sketch above is one in which we avoid a rapid collapse by voluntarily stepping down from our throne. I myself question whether it could be achieved, I doubt that any dictator could stay in power long enough to create a society like this, although in North Korea they do seem to have some success.
If you can imagine a scenario where we can keep sitting on our throne, without scorching the planet and without causing a global catastrophe, I along with many others would like to hear it. Nuclear energy and genetic engineering simply do not deliver the miracles that technonerds claim such technologies can, instead they risk creating tremendous damage. The limits to solar power and wind are also directly clear to anyone who is willing to take a honest look at these technologies, unblinded by ideology.
You say: “I think liberalism is best used to describe ideologies that strive for maximum economic growth.” Now that is very interesting, but I’d like to ask for a clarification on one point — does that extend to social liberalism as well?
You can divide liberalism into market liberalism and social liberalism. Market liberalism seems to have a much stronger faith in the free market to hand out the spoils on its own, whereas social liberalism seeks to ensure that the spoils don’t end up in the hands of a small minority.
The failure of socialism meant that the traditional left began to incorporate increasingly larger amounts of liberal ideas in their program, which meant for example that companies formerly under state control were sold to the private sector.
For the centre-left, economic growth then became increasingly important as well, to ensure that most people stay employed. In countries with a strong government in contrast, jobs can simply be invented out of thin air. Thus today social liberalism desires economic growth too.
Of course there are vague differences in the type of growth they wish to see. Social liberals would rather see real median household income continue to grow, rather than decline as it has since around 1999. Market liberals care more about growth in GDP in general.
What is the difference between liberalism and the mental outlook of people in the average third world nation?
I’d say that liberalism tends to function more through individual pursuit of self-interest, whereas third world people are more concerned about their group-interests.
I understand you’re involved with environmental rescue activity in your local area. What biomes, ecosystems and interesting species are there? How do you hope to help them survive the human cataclysm?
We’re one of the few places with temperate rainforest, where oak trees still grow in great abundance near the coast, benefiting from high precipitation. Interestingly, the temperate rainforests seem to extend about as far as Celtic cultural influences tend to be seen, outside of their range we find a stronger Anglo-Saxon cultural influence among our people. Temperate rainforest can be found in Norway too, where it is more intact, but dominated by conifers of course.
In regards to interesting species, I’d say my favorite are hedgehogs. Their main problem is the growth in human traffic, which is decimating them. They need to be able to travel large distances for mating purposes, without being hit by cars in the process. Their traditional defensive technique of rolling up into a ball doesn’t work against cars sadly. We aim to reduce traffic of motorized vehicles. I don’t own any motorized vehicle whatsoever myself. We also successfully kept the local government here from destroying one of their hibernation spots.
I once formulated the idea of the right wing as particularity and the left-wing as universality, which oddly is more individualistic because it promises inclusion to everyone. How does that comport with de Condorcet’s theories?
I’d say that makes sense. I think you can also divide people up among those who desire equality, those who desire freedom and those who desire order, which makes more sense to me than the left-right paradigm, but still doesn’t quite capture all subtleties of course.
Condorcet became popular among academic types today, precisely because of his universalist rhetoric. Today we decided that the supreme vice of human beings is racism, so those who were first to proclaim the universal equality of all of mankind are idolized.
Universalism tends to cause decreased standards, which in turn causes third-world style behavior. Do you think this could be a problem in your future society? How is it different, if at all, from liberalism?
I think universalism can only emerge under modern conditions. If our energy use per capita ends up at a fraction of our current energy use, we will inevitably find our “small world” turning into a “big world” again, one where we might even ultimately come to forget the very existence of certain continents. Without mass media, without motorized transportation, I do not see how anything resembling globalization could ever again occur.
Other than “climate change,” what are the biggest environmental problems you see today?
There are countless. To me it appears the biggest problems are deforestation, soil erosion and the eutrophication of freshwater and coastal ecosystems. Loss of wild megafauna is of course also a big problem, as certain seed-dispersing species of trees depend on them among other reasons.
It seems to me that in the long-run, humans and the species we domesticated will probably evolve into animals that will end up filling many of the niches now left open by mass extinction. For that to happen will take millions of years however.
How did we get to where we presently are with an ethos of “mind your own business and tolerate others”? It sounds so pleasant.
I’d say the law of unintended consequences is important for us to recognize as a factor. The living world is composed of numerous complex interdependent systems. These systems survive and dominate this planet because they are to some degree self-stabilizing. Tip them gently in one direction and they will typically come up with a force in the opposite direction. Tip them too hard in one direction however, and you might end up killing them. The economy works like that for example.
The problem is that sufficiently complex systems respond in ways to changes we introduce that are difficult to predict in advance and might actually seem counter-intuitive. For example, artificial sweeteners seem to make people gain more weight, because the body can no longer trust that a sweet taste will be accompanied by the intake of calories.
Through technology we became capable of introducing changes into our environment that seem benign, but end up changing society in such a way that our quality of life suffers as a consequence. Examples of this problem are abundant. Consider that we invented the steam engine, before we discovered the greenhouse effect.
We also don’t really understand how society functions, why groups of people behave the way that they do, nor do we really understand how the human mind functions, what conditions make people happy and what conditions make them miserable. The involvement of responsive actors like humans, who can anticipate changes and actively make strategic decisions, makes everything infinitely more complex. Yet we found ourselves accepting that technology forever has to progress, simply because we can’t conceive of any way in which we could prohibit technology from advancing. Thus, we were taken for a ride.
Do market liberalism and social liberalism create the same effects on society?
Roughly yes. Market liberalism pushes a few more people into suicide by cutting their benefits (looking at you, Cameron). It also allows rich old men the opportunity to see if they can shut up the haunting feeling of emptiness by throwing more expensive cars and golf clubs at it. Market liberalism is also known as conservatism in some of its incarnations.
Social liberalism is more willing to try to reign in the excesses of the free market. They tend to see any income for the managing class that’s more than necessary for them to publicly demonstrate how important they are to society to be excessive. They also tend to have a fetish for education, thinking that this will somehow prove to be the final solution to inequality that will render all other government programs largely obsolete. It’s typically what emerges when socialist or progressive parties become part of the ruling order of a nation.
Western Europe has historically been governed by social liberalism in the second half of the 20th century, while the United States was ruled by market liberals, more representative of unadulterated capitalism. I would include the Clinton presidency there, considering how the massive economic expansion during his reign caused a massive increase in income inequality. Note that as our global economy changes (read: collapses), social liberalism increasingly begins to resemble market liberalism, as the interventions in the free market become increasingly difficult to afford and the programs supposed to pay off in the long term get abandoned.
I’d say that more or less sums it up. I’m hard pressed to think of any other real differences these ideologies produce. Largely, that must be because I don’t consider them to be very relevant. Most people wish to define their own ideas by the groups that they oppose. Hence why socialists complain all the time about “neoliberalism”, conservatives whine about “liberals”, etcetera. When you simply put up your own ideas, you open yourself up to criticism, whereas people are always more inclined to join a complaint choir with you. That’s the problem every revolutionary who overthrew an existing order found out too.