In many ways, that series was an attempt to, as Moldbug put it, conduct self-administered “brain surgery.” In other words, it was an attempt to firstly create coherence and clarity in how one understands the world. Secondly, it was an attempt to get out one’s own ideas, however poorly expressed.
Another way of putting the matter is that one was slowly awakening from a dream into a nightmare — that one’s darkest suspicions and fears were true. Another way of putting it is that over the course of two to three years in particular, and a culmination of ten years of, in part, haphazard and systematic study I moved from libertarian-left progressivism into, well, right-wing reaction.
Another way, though somewhat imperfect, was that one’s faith has been shattered. That one has been deceived and fundamentally mistaken about politics, history and the nature of progress.
A longer reflection.
Here I will set down how I changed my mind. The idea is that others may find how I came to accept a very different set of beliefs and values from I started useful in the attempt to change other people’s minds. Nevertheless, fundamental changes are rare, and the following will probably show how unlikely it is to convince large numbers of people. Reactionaries, however, are not populists.
I have some philosophical training. I mostly think, or try to think like a philosopher. The goal of inquiry is to understand. The ultimate task is systematic understanding. One’s system is to have first principles. First principles result not from the start, but emerge at the end of inquiry. One achieves this by a constant interaction between experience and reasoning and reflection. One eliminates contradiction and falsehood on the one hand, and build up coherent explanations based on observable fact on the other.
Ten years ago, I began to a project of attempting to understand how everything, in the broadest possible sense, fits together, in the broadest possible sense.
To me, there was a trinity of concerns, God, human nature, and society.
I believe that political and philosophical systems are rooted in a view of human nature. One book, ten years ago, that I found persuasive, and that served as my prior or foundation, was Stephen Pinker’s the Blank Slate and Pinker’s use of Thomas Sowell’s Conflict of Political Visions to illustrate the link between political philosophy and human nature. From this book, I already had the foundation of a right wing worldview — yet I still considered myself as on the left (thus violating the prime directive of philosophy —do not contradict oneself.)
(There is a key flag. The fact that so many people, like myself, lived and thought in a state of incoherence. The practical lesson here, I recommend (as I show below) is to firmly and clearly, but without ego or rancour, drive a wedge between these contradictions.)
You can imagine then, the days, weeks, months and years, I spent in constant thinking about political philosophy when I wasn’t thinking about metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and Islamic terrorism (which occupied most of my thinking).
It was not until nearly ten years later, living in China, that I actually read in depth Sowell’s Conflict. There everything came together in a kind gestalt: experiencing China; studying its Maoist experience; reflecting on Sowell, and reading his Controversial Essays; watching the phenomenon of “Social Justice Warriors” in England and America and how they reminded me of Mao’s Red Guards; then ISIS and the “migration” and the “lunacy” of Merkel; also crucial was reading Theodore Dalyrample’s Life at The Bottom and felt, as I relaxed in China, depressed about the what happened in England.
I realised that something was fundamentally wrong with our Western society.
(So, the change resulted from a continuous project of inquiry, experiencing a different culture, history, observing current events via the “news”, and notching patterns. Furthermore, inquiring into the foundational issues or assumptions, comparing them with historical experience (China’s Maoist days); notching surface, everyday problems (Life at the Bottom), comparing them with China’s way of life and connecting such changes to deeper ideological changes in society resulting from dead philosophers from long ago.)
In a sense, my experience confirmed the truth of Conquest’s first law of politics as I became more and more critical of the left, the more I actually learned and understood things, and had no concern for either the opinion of others or their feelings.
(Two key points here. Knowledge, but also a desire for knowledge that is not tied to social conformity.)
Then, accidentally, I discovered Moldbug.
There are many things I like about Moldbug, here is one. He is systematic at the core. Theory without facts is empty, facts without theory is meaningless, Moldbug has both.
He has a theory, arrived at after years of reading, thinking and questioning, that organises experience or the facts. He has a theory of government that explains history — thus he has a theory of history. He has a theory of economics, law and even war.
Moldbug achieved something that I was myself attempting, but his knowledge, vision, tenacity and ability showed just how paltry my own efforts were. At least I had the ability to recognise a grand master when he appeared.
(Another flag. Chance favours the prepared mind. Conceptual shifts and breakthroughs, even in persuasion must have suitable background conditions.)
Moldbug allowed me to make sense of the contradictions, indeed the horror and tragedy that I was observing.
A good question is: how did one shift in worldview so completely?
I believe it consists in the following:
1: A drive to understand.
2: A drive to answer questions.
3: A drive to eliminate contradictions and establish coherence.
4: A desire to engage the viewpoints of people whose views are different and in contradiction to one’s own point of view. (For example, three years ago, I started to read Peter Hitchens — an old school conservative — in order to read someone I disagree with and to sharpen my arguments.)
5: A willingness to fundamentally question every single aspect of one’s beliefs and values.
6: A willingness to change one’s beliefs if the facts and logic require it.
In short, a will to understand.
Another way of putting it is that:
A: I was uninformed. I was missing key facts and theories. This is partly a result of education and culture (the Cathedral) but also that I was unsystematic in search and insufficiently analytical when faced with contradictions and errors. I was intellectually lazy, or focused too much on other questions (meta-ethics, for example).
B: I was misinformed. I believed things that was not the case. Again, this is partly due to education and culture, but also that I was insufficiently searching and questioning.
C: Illogical, inconsistent and incoherent. This is largely my fault. I should have been more rigorous and relentless in the pursuit of contradictions and anomalies.
D: Incompleteness. My understanding of the world (politics, history and economics) was radically incomplete (in many ways it still is, and always will be).
Despite this, I understood the above at the meta-level, and this drove me on.
What I mean by meta level was the following. I am well acquainted with philosophical scepticism, both of the Sextus and Cartesian variety. To me, this served as a kind of meta-level mind hack: awareness of the possibility of total ignorance, uncertainty and delusion. Secondly, I was deeply impressed by Descartes attempt to undertake, once in his life, a complete throwing out of all beliefs and to build them up from scratch.
Intellectually, this allowed me the ability to entertain the most radical and absurd thoughts possible, and an awareness that one might need to radically re-alter one’s beliefs. Or, that one’s beliefs were mostly second hand nonsense that needed to cleared away.
Finally, I have read a considerable number of classic science fiction books. That, I believe also requires mental flexibility and imagination.
What lessons can be drawn in general?
Honestly, and without any kind of self-congratulation, it a type of mental life that few people could or would want to live.
I believe the cognitive aspects (thinking, reasoning, imagination, pattern recognition, purposeful inquiry,) are clear. However, I should make clear the social aspects.
In short, if my beliefs conflict with the opinion of society, then so much for society. It is clear, however, that most people do not think like that. Most people value social status and conformity over truth.
So, there is a lesson here for reactionaries. One that, has been learned, but must be repeatedly observed and attended to: social status, fashion, prestige — the X-factor — must be kept in mind.
Again, following Moldbug, it is the young Brahmins that are the key demographic to influence.
Perhaps, that is why Athens put Socrates to death, because he was “corrupting the youth.”