Comments on “Eternalism in politics”

Add new comment

A nebulous political theory

Patri Friedman 2018-01-14

While I agree the vast majority of people fallaciously believe in political eternalism, I have an alternative framework called “competitive governance” which I’ve been promoting for 10+ years, and people have been receptive to. The idea is that governance and laws are a technology, and that through experimentation, attempts, successes, and failures, our forms of government can (and do) evolve and improve like other technologies. Also, there is no right government for everyone (different people want different things), or for all time (available / optimal forms government depend on technology, hence are always changing).

What holds the water together so we don't fall into the ocean?

Bird Handorbush 2018-01-14

You seem to me to be committed to the eternal meaning of what you call technology. Although you say that the forms of technology are constantly evolving and improving, making them nebulous, it sounds like your idea of the meaning, definition and value of what we call technology today is fixed.

It may have been the case that the social ‘technologies’ for governance that co-evolved with our pre-systems-era human ancestors were less like sticks, steam engines or oil rigs than they were like spiderweb, or orchids. Even though we know what good technology looks like today and have ever-changing theories with increasing amounts of predictive power telling us why this is so, it could be that prior to the appearance of any theory of what technology is, the technology that was there was sufficiently advanced that it was literally called magic.

Similar to its biological cousin and other varieties of rationalist eternalism, political eugenics seeks to isolate its subject from the environment in which it was embedded in order to create new conditions in which it is meant to flourish. Unfortunately, in doing so, it ends up building a perfect habitat for wasps without planting a single flower.

Your definition of technology may itself have to change in order to interact with the social reality it currently seeks to encapsulate, rather than social reality having to change to accommodate its having been subsumed under your expansion of the current definition’s scope.

Competitive governance

David Chapman 2018-01-15

Hi, Patri,

I don’t know the details of your proposal, but I have heard good things from mutual acquaintances and in the press. If I understand it correctly from the little I know, I’d locate it within what I’d describe as “subcultural politics,” i.e. the thesis that different governance arrangements will be good for different sorts of people, and we should let groups aggregate to adopt and experiment with them.

I’m sympathetic to this possibility! Because, as you say, it allows for both nebulosity and pattern. I hope something in this space can work.

Supposedly I’m going to write about it here, but there’s only a placeholder summary there now.

I’m not sure if you know that I’ve written a fair amount about politics. The most relevant completed piece might be “Tribal, systematic, and fluid political understanding.” Especially the final section, on “fluid” politics that respects both nebulosity and pattern.


Patri Friedman 2018-01-16

I would definitely say that competitive governance is an idea which (unlike, say, Objectivism) embraces nebulosity.

It’s not just about different strokes for different folks, but about the idea that technologies and businesses (workable patterns) are discovered/advanced through parallel experiments, including high-risk/high-rewards. Even a population with a single shared idea of what they want from their government might want to try a variety of methods in parallel.

Another part of the perspective that could be related to meaningness is that people think of morals as the inputs to government, I think of them as the outputs. A government is a set of rules and institutions attempting to create a certain outcome. Just as you can’t simply say “I want a car that costs $100 and gets 1,000 mpg and goes 0-60 in 1.5s”, and then build it, you can’t simply specify a set of morals and create a government which implements them as laws. It’s much more complex and there are numerous practical details. Thus morals are best thought of as product features - the cost, the mpg, the acceleration, the aesthetics - that involve tradeoffs and technology.

Yet, people seem to strongly want to interpret government through the lens of meaning, fight about what the policies mean, and ignore these tradeoffs. (Other people nihilistically see government as meaning nothing). In between, it is more like an imperfect tool by which we attempt to make a just society.

I’ve been enjoying Meaningness and I will check out your political writing.

Add new comment:

You can use some Markdown and/or HTML formatting here.

Optional, but required if you want follow-up notifications. Used to show your Gravatar if you have one. Address will not be shown publicly.

If you check this box, you will get an email every time someone else posts a comment here. The emails include links to unsubscribe.