Thursday, August 31, 2017

Book reviews

Amazon link

Their big idea is that most brain processing occurs at a subconscious level, that intuitions are subconscious processes which lead (opaquely) to conscious conclusions (metarepresentations), that reasoning is an opaque process associating such metarepresentations with other metarepresentations allowing us to justify our actions to ourselves and others, mostly in reputational support.

This social rationale for reasoning explains why the accounts we give ourselves for our actions are often quite superficial and weak while in justifying ourselves to others we often strengthen our reasons through dialogue. And also that in most cases our reasoning is ex post facto.

The confabulatory rationale for reason is something designers of neural network AI systems will have to take on board. Since, according to the authors, our reasoning powers evolved for public relations purposes, justifications for our underlying evolutionary drives, expect the corresponding motivations of corporeal AI systems to be rather salient to their conversational capabilities.

The book is marred by its style of writing, too keen to show off its authors' liberal susceptibilities, moral qualities and faux-affability. I did not feel on their team. The book is also way too discursive, reminiscent of late-Dennett. They would probably think this a compliment.


Amazon link

Good, chronologically-organised exposition of Hegel's life and thought, placed within the context of the intellectual life of the times. In some places the detail is overpowering. There are two main areas of weakness: firstly there is insufficient explanation of the key conceptual edifices of Hegel's system (I am thinking particularly of the Weltgeist); secondly Hegel's actual works are not discussed specifically but only in passing via Hegel's underlying ideas.

I am still little clearer as to what Hegel actually wrote in the Phenomenology of Spirit or the Science of Logic. I had hoped for better.


Amazon link

I was quite impressed with this book for a while, as Rodrik explained that globalised capital really 'wants' a global 'democratic' institutional framework to ensure its continued replication .. and that nation states and pesky local interests (eg the working classes) get in the way and need to be shunted aside.

His solution was a return to a (modified) Bretton Woods arrangement of more enlightened nation states. My suspension of disbelief finally crumbled when he started advocating unrestricted immigration and the removal of border controls as a major driver of future economic growth. And this is the guy who accuses others of believing more in their oversimplified economic models than facts on the ground!

Even Hive Mind, with its hand-wringing cop-outs, was a lot better than this.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Marx on Slavery

Expecting a vitriolic rant on the absolute evils of slavery in the antebellum American South? There are plenty of those, but here Marx is more interesting, more analytic:
"This is one of the circumstances that makes production by slave labour such a costly process. The labourer here is, to use a striking expression of the ancients, distinguishable only as instrumentum vocale, from an animal as instrumentum semi-vocale, and from an implement as instrumentum mutum.

"But he himself [the slave] takes care to let both beast and implement feel that he is none of them, but is a man. He convinces himself with immense satisfaction, that he is a different being, by treating the one unmercifully and damaging the other con amore.

"Hence the principle, universally applied in this method of production, only to employ the rudest and heaviest implements and such as are difficult to damage owing to their sheer clumsiness. In the slave-states bordering on the Gulf of Mexico, down to the date of the civil war, ploughs constructed on old Chinese models, which turned up the soil like a hog or a mole, instead of making furrows, were alone to be found. Conf. J. E. Cairnes. “The Slave Power,” London, 1862, p. 46 sqq.

"In his “Sea Board Slave States,” Olmsted tells us: “I am here shown tools that no man in his senses, with us, would allow a labourer, for whom he was paying wages, to be encumbered with; and the excessive weight and clumsiness of which, I would judge, would make work at least ten per cent greater than with those ordinarily used with us.

"And I am assured that, in the careless and clumsy way they must be used by the slaves, anything lighter or less rude could not be furnished them with good economy, and that such tools as we constantly give our labourers and find our profit in giving them, would not last out a day in a Virginia cornfield – much lighter and more free from stones though it be than ours.

"So, too, when I ask why mules are so universally substituted for horses on the farm, the first reason given, and confessedly the most conclusive one, is that horses cannot bear the treatment that they always must get from negroes; horses are always soon foundered or crippled by them, while mules will bear cudgelling, or lose a meal or two now and then, and not be materially injured, and they do not take cold or get sick, if neglected or overworked.

"But I do not need to go further than to the window of the room in which I am writing, to see at almost any time, treatment of cattle that would ensure the immediate discharge of the driver by almost any farmer owning them in the North.”
From Note 17 of "Chapter 7: The Labour-Process and the Process of Producing Surplus-Value", Capital Volume 1.

In this chapter Marx notes the extreme inefficiency of slavery as compared with the capitalist purchase of labour-power rather than the person of the labourer themselves:
"Then again, the labour-power itself must be of average efficacy. In the trade in which it is being employed, it must possess the average skill, handiness and quickness prevalent in that trade, and our capitalist took good care to buy labour-power of such normal goodness.

"This power must be applied with the average amount of exertion and with the usual degree of intensity; and the capitalist is as careful to see that this is done, as that his workmen are not idle for a single moment. He has bought the use of the labour-power for a definite period, and he insists upon his rights. He has no intention of being robbed.

"Lastly, and for this purpose our friend has a penal code of his own, all wasteful consumption of raw material or instruments of labour is strictly forbidden, because what is so wasted, represents labour superfluously expended, labour that does not count in the product or enter into its value. [note 17]."
Generalised slavery is incompatible with the capitalist mode of production as the use of slaves does not create surplus value - the basis of profits. Classical antiquity was not capitalist.

Putting aside moral issues, slaves replacing workers is a form of total automation. But unlike designed systems, human beings are understandably unenthused by a lifetime role as servitor.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Diary: what I'm reading

Amazon link

Peter Turchin recommends this book in his latest, rather blood-curdling post. He writes,
"It is strange to actually live in a society experiencing a structural-demographic crisis, after studying many examples of such crises in the past. Unfortunately the crisis is developing largely according to the classical pattern. The degree of political polarization is at its highest levels since the (First) American Civil War. Intra-elite infighting is tearing the Republic apart. ...

"Steve is one of the “heterodox economists” (meaning that they are pretty much ignored by the mainstream). His starting point is the theory of Hyman Minsky (another economist who was largely ignored by the profession). Minsky’s theory makes a lot of sense to me, however. Let me try explain it in one paragraph.

"The main dynamical driver is the magnitude of private debt (combining what’s owed by both corporations and households) in relation to GDP. Currently this indicator is at 150% of the US GDP. Why is it bad?

"Actually, for a while, as private debt grows, things are just fine because expanding credit drives economic growth (think of new housing construction during building booms). But eventually the cost of servicing accumulated debt starts to depress consumption (the more you pay for your mortgage, the less money you have to buy things). Falling consumption results in overproduction of goods and declining profits for businesses, which makes investment a losing proposition. Credit collapses, businesses go bankrupt, or downsize their labor, less employment means even less consumption, and (absent large-scale increase in government spending) the economy enters a downward-trending “death spiral” of a prolonged depression.

"The precise timing of the turn-around point is very difficult to predict (it’s another example of earthquake-like dynamics). Yet Steve Keen is one of very few economists who predicted the General Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2007–2008.

"If Steve is right in identifying the main cause of the GFC, then we should listen to what he says in the book about the likelihood of another crisis in the next few years. Unfortunately, the news is bad, because we are still at a very high level of private debt in relation to GDP."
Turchin also sees the world economy in the 'winter' phase of the current Kondratiev cycle (I recently wrote about these here).

In any event, I acquired the book and will read it along with this:

They say the first four chapters are tedious, and that after that, things pick up (most readers have abandoned by then). In these early chapters Marx writes at length and repetitiously about the nature of the commodity, use-value and exchange-value, money and the transformation of money into capital.

He's a lively writer, always good for a venomous quip at the expense of an opponent; his knockabout style is far from politically-correct. It helps to be aware of just how important - how foundational - these concepts are for the whole development of Marxist economics.

Still, I'm glad I've got beyond chapter four.

Diary: a picnic at Brean Down

Yesterday was that rarity in England, a late-summer Bank Holiday which was actually hot. And remarkably the tide was in at the beach here, just south of Brean Down (pictured).

Brean Down: reminds me of a Predator drone

We didn't make it on to the peninsula itself, settling for a Waitrose-inspired picnic at the top of the beach and a walk along the damp sand.

Refreshments (!) at the entrance

The rights to beach-parking are held by the local council. It's £3 for the day and the beach is plenty big. That's more than you can say for the toilets located behind the Burgers and Fries. The women were queued twelve deep and the facilities were rudimentary.

What economic incentive would be required to create first-class facilities?

The demographic is mostly lower-middle-class parents-with-families

Lower-middle-class parents-with-families sounds snobbish, but is observationally accurate. There is an osmotic social gradient running from north to south along the coast here. Burnham-on-Sea, four miles to the south, features large, tattooed people; the shops are poor and the general sense is of a benefits culture.

The beach where we picnicked fronts many caravan parks and was populated mostly with young families on holiday. I heard Birmingham accents.

Progressing north beyond the Down itself you get to Weston-super-Mare which, while still working class, is becoming increasing gentrified as a dormitory for Bristol; it has a Waitrose.

So here is my video panorama: the look and feel of an English beach afternoon in summer.

Friday, August 25, 2017

What the Owl said to Lenin and Trotsky

The previous post discussed the theoretical limitations of the Corbyn movement and its analogues in other countries. Here I consider the real prospects for capitalism.


The Owl of Minerva takes its flight only when the shades of night are gathering, Hegel famously observed, meaning that philosophy comes to understand a historical condition just as it passes away.

The Owl visited Lenin and Trotsky a hundred years ago in 1917 (from the indeterminate future).

She whispered,
"You believe in the imminence of the world proletarian revolution. Yet over the next century there will be no proletarian revolutions. Your Russian success will lead to a bureaucratic-collectivist regime - non-capitalist to be sure - which will collapse and revert to capitalism. There will be ethno-nationalist and inter-capitalist conflicts for sure. But nowhere will capitalism transition to a superior mode of production.

"All the progress that the masses will enjoy will be pioneered by reformist parties which do not challenge capitalism's existence. Even the capitalists will agree in the end that those reforms were in their own best interests. Despite different political traditions and histories, America, the countries of Europe and East Asia will all come to look rather similar."
Lenin and Trotsky will hear the Owl out and ignore her. The Communist and Trotskyist movements they inspire will have no clearer idea of a way forward a century hence.


On its way back to the future, the Owl stops briefly in 2017. There are no big revolutionary leaders to talk to here. She merely mumbles, unheard, on the Internet.

This is what she says.
"Capitalism is still nowhere near having exhausted its ability to develop the productive forces. It will not end until it has completed its task of removing messy human labour from the processes of production and exchange, replacing them by cheaper automation.

The capitalists are unaware that in so doing they will destroy the very mechanism of surplus value which underpins their mode of production. Some of them do have a faint intuition that the expulsion of all human workers from the economy would remove all demand. Which, although merely a symptom, is nevertheless equally terminal for their system.

Amazon link

But disregard the AI boosters. Their current success is based on harvesting low-hanging fruit. As Mercier and Sperber imply in their recent book, "The Enigma of Reason: A New Theory of Human Understanding", automating the totality of social competences seen in modern work-practices effectively means automating being human.

"The wheel will spin around and capitalism will die trying to reintroduce (artificial) slavery. But this is technically very hard.

I'll be back in 2117 to update you on how things are going."

I have discussed this likely trajectory of capitalism in my series, "Marxism and HBD". There is some scope for further analysis as regards the precise failure mode of capitalism under total automation and the genesis of its successor - I hope to return to the topic soon.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A theorisation of Corbynism (Hardt and Negri)

An orthodox Marxist would be extremely interested in Momentum, the radicalisation of predominantly young, middle-class professional types organised around Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party. It would seem highly reminiscent of the 'New Left' student movements of the sixties and seventies (full disclosure: I was there).

Said Marxist would, however, be far less impressed by the level of consciousness of the movement's thinking: its faddish diversities, its self-indulgent identity politics, its horizons delimited by left-wing social-democracy.

Traditionally we would call such proto-ideologies petit-bourgeois and see their proponents as candidates for a deeper education. But ancien-Marxism seems falsified by history - no lessons there to learn. The result - inevitably - is the theorisation of left-populism by itself as the new anti-capitalism.

Parenthetically, this rather ignores just how popular Corbynism and its American and Continental cousins are with the left bourgeoisie!


The poster-children for this way of thinking - after Paul Mason's efforts - are the theorists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, boosted by left-academics such as Phil Burton-Cartledge.

Phil has written a series of posts explaining the new ideas - I'll just quote a summary.
"What is clear for Hardt and Negri is the revolutionary party is out. As the properties of fixed capital are distributed among our growing legions of cognitive and socialised workers, the 'functions' of the revolutionary party are diffused among the politicising networks.

"Rather than the received conception of a vanguard of class conscious cadres providing leadership for the rest to follow, cadre building applies to the class as a whole. The power of the multitude lies in its being the living substance of the common, and increasingly their common lines of flight are putting them on a collision course with capital.

"Biopolitical production wrapped up in dense webs of communication brings people together, educates them, politicises them. For example, the incessant identity-related debates are no longer the concern of radical elites beavering away in academies but are now the property of millions of people, as the fall out from Charlottesville demonstrates.

"The aim then is to build up the capacity for self-organisation, forge new institutions that bring out the common interests of socialised workers without denying their difference. The image is of a self-activating, self-coordinating swarm that can simply overwhelm capital and the state in a process of creative destruction, of replacing one form of organising society with another."
None of this is well-defined. None of this has the ring of truth. Seems more like opportunistic pandering to a set of inchoate longings which have nothing to do with undermining capitalism and everything to do with its further development. Notice how the critiques of capitalism - how very bad it is - have a ritualistic and anaemic quality.

Those middle-to-upper-class Momentum supporters, those SJWs in the States, those French supporters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon in La France Insoumise, are having the time of their lives under capitalism.


I feel, nonetheless, slightly motivated to read the final book of Hardt and Negri's trilogy, Commonwealth, if only to understand their thinking more fully.

I have to say though, that I do rather prefer my own vision as to the future destiny and supersession of capitalism - it's a lot more grounded in reality.

Amazon link

"Together Hardt and Negri's work is considered to be responsible for a resurgence of interest in non-orthodox Marxism and its political manifestations.

"Commonwealth is the final part of a trilogy that began with "Empire" in 2000, a book that was published during the emergence of the alter-globalization movement. "Multitude" followed in 2004, developing the ideas that had been introduced in "Empire," in particular the concept of the multitude as a new revolutionary subject. "Commonwealth" is a worthy addition to the trilogy, expanding and clarifying on the understandings in the previous books, but perhaps more significantly grounding their analysis within an extended discussion of "the common...".

"Commonwealth" is a book that challenges presuppositions about the utility of Marx, and introduces the possibility of combining his insights with the ideas of other significant authors such as Nietzsche, Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, who are not traditionally associated with the radical communist project."
From the Amazon page.


Following on from John Gray's insightfully scathing review of Commonwealth, I should perhaps turn to Slavoj Žižek, a writer who prefers to épater les bourgeois rather than flatter them.

In Gray's words,
"A Slovenian philosopher, psychoanalytical theorist and film critic, Žižek has become a gadfly of the left establishment, a prolific provocateur whose principal aim seems to be to confound his tender-minded readers. His target throughout this book is not the right but the soft, democratic, meliorist left, which imagines that the egalitarian goals of communism can be realised by non-repressive, liberal means.

"Žižek is savagely scornful of this view, writing sharply that "One of the mantras of the postmodern left has been that we should finally leave behind the 'Jacobin-Leninist paradigm' of centralised dictatorial power. But perhaps the time has now come to turn this mantra around... Now, more than ever, one should insist on the 'eternal Idea of Communism' - strict egalitarian justice, disciplinary terror, political voluntarism, and trust in the people."

"In other words, dictatorship is indispensable to the communist project. Mass coercion and terror are not departures from a humane vision, brought about by tyrannical leaders acting in backward conditions. Lenin and Stalin were genuine masters of revolutionary strategy, who knew that without organised terror their goals would never be achieved."

Amazon link

Gray is reviewing Zizek's First as Tragedy, Then as Farce,  but perhaps it's worth waiting a couple of weeks for the prolific Comrade Žižek's latest opus: Lenin 2017: Remembering, Repeating, and Working Through?

But perhaps it's time to lose patience with showmen who really haven't a clue as to what is to be done?


Next: What the Owl said to Lenin and Trotsky.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Diary: Westhay Moor and Nature Reserve

Last visited in August 2014, not much has changed at Westhay Nature Reserve.

It's a frog? A toad?

Clare in the Hide

Ducks, coots, a heron and a swan we saw today .. and flies and dragonflies

The Somerset Levels are built on peat .. and rain

This is the lake at the furthest western extent of the Reserve

Talking of water, why do all those American warships keep crashing into stuff?

I read differing accounts. Some say that in the modern US Navy they're all so into their technical specialisms that no-one rates watch-keeping any more .. or sleeping, for that matter; others blame something akin to GPS spoofing .. and say it's an act of war.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Exercise fetishism, genetic confounds

I observed a few days ago that, at age 66, my physical capabilities were in visible decline.
"Let it be noted that in my mid sixty-sixth year I finally realised that my body was not immortal and that age would wreak its toll on both competences and recovery time.

"I observed recently that due to over-enthusiastic lifting, I was now experiencing chronic elbow joint and tendon twinges which have not yet recovered. As a consequence I have to rethink this whole weight-lifting thing.

"I suspect I will be doing more running and cardio work going forwards, with strength stuff more focussed on the core and upper back, where I have historically had muscle issues. Biceps and triceps can maybe go hang!"
So at some point I'll be packing away those weights, and going for a brisk walk rather than a run.

But will it make any difference?


We're led to believe that vigorous exercise is the only way to stave off the myriad complaints of old age: heart disease, cancer, dementia .. .  But such exciting and well-publicised studies are correlative and seldom investigate genetic confounds. The only way to be sure is to conduct twin studies.

And so I was led to this news item: "Exercise Differences Do Not Produce Longevity Differences in Identical Twins". You should read it, but I will just quote the bottom line.
"High physical activity level was associated with longer lifespan when looking at non-identical twins that differ for their genetic background.

"However, in identical twins, that share the same genetic background, in pairwise analyses comparing physically active members of a twin pair with their inactive co-twin, there was no difference in lifespan.

"Our results are consistent with previous findings, that animals that have high aerobic capacity are physically more active compared to animals with low aerobic capacity. The findings in human twins were in agreement with this: discordance in physical activity level was clearly more common among non-identical twins than in identical twins showing an effect of genetic background on physical activity level.

"Vigorous physical activity in adulthood did not increase lifespan in human twins, even though physical activity is well-known to have various positive effects on health, physical fitness, and physical function.

"Based on our findings, we propose that genetic factors might partly explain the frequently observed associations between high physical activity level and later reduced mortality in humans. "
I therefore conclude that backing off from intensive physical exercise is unlikely to have much impact on either my general state of health or my longevity, assuming I avoid perverse outcomes such as complete indolence or gross obesity.

We sometimes counterpose exercise to everything else we do, as if our bodies would turn into jellyfish if we failed to lift those weights, or run those miles.

But formal exercise simply adds the icing on the cake to any reasonably active lifestyle.

It's not as if the opposite to vigorous exercise is going to be chronic bed rest.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Diary: the Mid-Somerset Show

It was reminiscent of The Archers as we reviewed the contenders for the best cucumber competition. Yes, this morning found us amongst the welly-brigade at Shepton for the Mid-Somerset Show (free entry, £10 parking).

Clare laughs at sheep (why?)

There were orange ones, sheep with black heads, small ones, large ones and some
which looked liked goats. Almost like they were genetically diverse or something

Well turned-out heavy horses - Clare was particularly impressed

Clare and myself in the prize-winning cheeses marquee

Clare fronting that remarkably tall slide for tiny tots

These descendants of wolves are now almost handbag dogs.
They're waiting to be judged.

As the judges walked around sundry sheep, pigs and dogs I was at a complete loss as to their ranking criteria. Was it teeth and gums, the rotundity of their abdomens, the health of their pelts?

I had a sneaking suspicion the judges were really assessing the fitness of their owners.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Marxism and HBD - part 4: the technology of communism

Amazon link

It was Peter Hamilton's excellent Night's Dawn Trilogy that first showed me that a technological civilisation could be realised in biotechnology ('bitek').
"Edenists are, for the most part, a single culture. They are an idealized, egalitarian, utopian society which, while not believing or practicing religion, does not prohibit it.

The majority of Edenists live in huge, multi-kilometre space stations called 'habitats' orbiting gas giants. Each individual habitat is a living organism, fully sentient, and is the perfect arbitrator of its community. Habitats cannot be bribed, are perfect impartial judges, and are aware of almost everything that occurs within them and immediately around them.

The most important aspect of any Edenist is his/her use of affinity. Affinity is an advanced form of mental communication similar to the present-day concepts of telepathy or entanglement. Edenist affinity allows them to transfer their memories into the habitat at the time of death. This is regarded as a form of immortality.

However, no habitat has yet died of old age (nor will for millennia) and could in turn pass their memories and personality on to another habitat were they ever to die. Adamist religions reject this as an attempt to avoid God's judgment on the soul after death, and it is this which is the root cause of the schism between the Adamist and Edenist cultures.

Edenists have access to faster-than-light travel through large, fully sentient bitek creatures called "Voidhawks".
We, however, still live in the brutalist machine age. Without the vast web of inanimate global industry spanning extraction, transportation, fabrication, distribution, marketing and sales, the economy would grind to a halt and we would all learn some new lessons about carrying capacity.

Much of human sensing and physical labour has been replaced by primary-automation, though people still provide cognitive direction. AI encroaches from the margins, colonising cognitive subtasks such as classification, recognition and increasingly role accomplishment (eg driving).

The reason most AI-aware people don't fear the AI apocalypse is not so much that:
intelligence ≠ will-to-power,
but that the present global web of supply, production and sales is just so fragile.


In societies with tiny smart fractions, lack of reliable inputs such as power and maintenance ensure that high-tech devices rapidly fail and are abandoned: the economy trends towards subsistence farming.

But what if we could get a First World plus economy by bio-engineering the natural ecosystem? That would look after itself and need no human attention except to 'pull the product off the tree' or 'plant the seed which becomes the house/car/voidhawk'.

That's my kind of subsistence farming.

So here is the concern. That primate-sourced servitor - cognitively-uplifted to work for us - is only a few mutations away from losing its enhanced prosociality and will-to-serve, poised to correctly conclude that humanity is just its parasite. That's the message its genes will be selected for.

Amazon link

That's the AI to worry about, as foreseen in Paul McAuley's 'Fairyland'. I expect the servitor gene-police to be kept busy - at least while they remain loyal and turn a deaf-ear to the SJWs.


For more on Marxism and HBD start here.


Friday, August 18, 2017

Marxism and HBD - part 3 (FAQs)

I suggest you read the first two parts before these FAQs.

Marxism and HBD - part 1

Marxism and HBD - part 2


Marxism and HBD - part 3 (FAQs)

1. What did you mean, the limited consciousness of the masses?

In part 2 I observed, "the masses have never been generally fired up with an explicit ideological commitment to a post-capitalist world order".

This is not controversial amongst Marxists. In Lenin's "What Is To Be Done" the great revolutionary observes,
"The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc.

"The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals. By their social status the founders of modern scientific socialism, Marx and Engels, themselves belonged to the bourgeois intelligentsia."
It's generally agreed that the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 was effected by the collapse of the Tsarist regime and the inability of the feeble Russian bourgeoisie (the Kerensky Provisional Government) to chart an acceptable way forward in the face of active resistance from workers, soldiers and peasants.

Lenin and the communists won because they were prepared to administer the final coup de grâce. There was no widespread mass desire for Marx's go-forwards programme, nor was it even possible in the economic and human-capital conditions obtaining.

The Russian Communist Party tried to map out a plan based on Marx's underdeveloped view of human nature and of course it failed. No one (including the Trotskyist movement) has ever suggested a compelling left-wing alternative. Sometimes the ideal really is unobtainable, that is the lesson of history to date.

If the Bolsheviks hadn't acted, the alternative would have been a counter-revolution led by the forces of the White Armies, which would have installed a capitalist autocracy. Millions would have died .. but then, millions actually did die in the Russian Civil War (1919-1923) and in the Stalinist thirties.


Subsequently, that stage of capitalism which lasted until the 1980s, the precursor to globalisation and neoliberalism, was marked by large-scale manufacturing imposing rather uniform conditions on workers. The normal operations of capitalism - as analysed by Marx - led to the usual class conflicts, which we saw highlighted in the mining and car industries and in the ports.

But capitalism developed. The productive forces mutated under the impact of new automation technologies. The economics of regiments of smart people working on dumb materials using somewhat-dumb machinery morphed into a more atomised, bespoke and networked economic model where many workers found themselves in a far richer and more individual working environment.

That misleading image of the massed ranks of the badly-dressed proletariat storming the barricades, banners in hand, has gone for ever. The supersession of capitalism will be found in a different place (as I described in part 2).

2. What did you mean: 'cognitive automation is functional slavery'?

I wrote quite a bit about 'total automation under capitalism'. Please do look at the material there.

What I would like to address here is the impact of extreme automation on the working classes and those excluded from the relations of production. Are we to talk of machine imperialism?

When the Greek economy, dysfunctional, nepotistic and corrupt, recently faltered within the Eurozone, it was subjected to severe economic policies imposed above all by Germany. Those painful steps, intended to lead to eventual stability and good governance, fell hard on those who had been most blameless in the hollowing out of the Greek economy.

People observed - correctly - that if the Germans had been put in charge of the Greek state from the earliest stages of EU entry, they would, with their useful efficiency and competence, have sorted things out pretty rapidly. It turned out that the Greeks preferred to run things dysfunctionally themselves rather than have another nationality do it for them. And of course, whose interest would those über-competent Germans really have been serving?

So goes the critique of imperialism. There is no lobby for the highly-educated, experienced and 'incorruptible' technocrats of the first world to take over the running of, say, selected sub-Saharan African nations. We have already been there with apartheid South Africa.

If coercive competence is out, the alternative (if we only had it to hand) is to create an economy which is responsive to the needs of the masses and which operates without their input (insofar as they lack the necessary skills and attitudes). This is as much a problem in the poorer cities and regions of the advanced capitalist world as it is in the third world.

You could say: "If we can't bring the people to where they need to be to run the economy they need (given today's technological limitations) then we should upgrade the technology instead."

That would require a far superior AI for communications, control, coordination and self-maintenance than we have today .. but in a hundred years?

Or we could upgrade the relevant traits in those populations - if they so wish - to replicate the high-achieving genotypes we see in the world's smart fractions today. We could and should do both .. over the coming decades as we can: to repeat, if those populations wish it.

I want to emphasise a point here. All racial, ethnic genomic-types are adaptations. Some populations (the Ashkenazim are the poster-people here) have been 'intensively-bred' for success in the core attributes which make today's capitalism work best: high intellect, strong verbal skills, prosocial attitudes.

But capitalism always changes and the arc of technology tends to rise. In a cognitively-automated economy - the kind Marx hazily envisioned for Communism - there is no requirement for everyone to be Einstein. A highly diverse set of genotypes should be possible with social and physical environments tailored to each. I think that's the vision to go for.

It's the difference between coercive eugenics (bad) and elective eugenics (empowering).

It's been observed that a sufficiently high-level of AI automation is indistinguishable from slavery. Well, from an economic viewpoint certainly - in the equations, slaves appear  as versatile, adaptable nanotech machines.

Our ethical issues stem from our empathy with the plight of the slave, our unwillingness to swap places. But a relatively crude and non-biological machine? One which lacked any semblance of consciousness?

Amazon link

The issue which is really going to keep people awake at nights is the genetic engineering of highly-competent servitors who truly want to serve us. We seem to be OK with horses but personal assistants?

3. How do I find out more about Marxism?

It's a big subject and mastering the literature is more than a lifetime's work.

Amazon link

You could do worse than start with Michael Heinrich's "An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx's Capital" (the link is to the PDF) which I write about here.

You may object that it is a curious kind of Marxism I'm discussing here: skeptical as regards the imminent violent overthrow of capitalism, expecting a further dramatic expansion of the productive forces - while seeking the most energetic mitigation of bourgeois elite disregard for and generally poor treatment of the global working classes.

I agree that it does all sound a bit Second International. Still, if we had had this discussion with Lenin and Trotsky back in 1917, they might be nonplussed by the fact that their brand of imminent insurrection had got precisely nowhere over the next hundred years, while the 'mitigationists' had helped transform the fortunes of the masses.

Capitalism will not go gentle into that good night and when it's time we will know.

4. How do I find out more Human Biodiversity (HBD)?

There is a stupendously encyclopaedic website, but it might be better to read a couple of papers first.

National IQ by countries

You could start with "Our Dumb World" by Greg Cochran: read the comments as well.

The critical insights of HBD derive from behavioural genetics and heritability research. Here the key paper is "The Top 10 Replicated Findings From Behavioral Genetics" which I write about here.

Finally, read "Hive Mind" by Garett Jones.

Amazon link
I reviewed it here.


Next: Marxism and HBD - part 4: the technology of communism.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Marxism and HBD - part 2

For part 1 see here.


A google search for "Marxism and HBD" currently returns only relevant posts on this very blog. Apparently the left-intellectuals of the world are silent on the topic. Why is that?

A provocative view is that human biodiversity (the inclusion of results from psychometrics and behavioural genetics et al into economics, sociology and politics) is ultimately toxic to Marxism; that the system of thought due to Marx is simply falsified by our best theories of human nature and human genetic variation.

But perhaps not.


'The capitalist mode of production is characterized by private ownership of the means of production, extraction of surplus value by the owning class for the purpose of capital accumulation, wage-based labour, and, at least as far as commodities are concerned, being market-based' (Wikipedia). Given the lack of central, rational planning, it is said, economic dislocations and crises are inevitable  .. with capitalism at some point failing to adequately develop society's productive forces further.

Reasonable Marxists disagree about the details.

The only way to abolish - supersede - capitalism is to abolish generalised commodity production. The alternative - the only alternative - is a consciously planned economy. The details are not well worked out, and where it has been tried the results have not been good.

There has never been a socialist revolution in an advanced capitalist country: a common response is to blame the working class and/or its leadership. Despite much leftist rhetoric, the masses have never been generally fired up with an explicit ideological commitment to a post-capitalist world order. There have been many worker-uprisings and struggles to be sure, but psychologically and in the specifics of praxis, the struggles have always been either reactive or in favour of bourgeois-democratic ideals.

Workers Councils have coordinated struggles, but - pace Lenin and Trotsky - have never served as the foundations of a post-capitalist state. Anyone who thinks for a few minutes about the complexities and sheer technicalities of the modern bourgeois state, consuming 30%-60% of GDP, knows that the workers' committees are not going to replace all that.


Amazon link

I recently read Martin Jay's turgid history of the Frankfurt School, where dismay at the secular non-appearance of the revolutionary proletariat led to forays into psychoanalysis ('human nature') and the cul-de-sac of methodology. Is there no way to rescue Marx's project?

I think that Marx was:
  • right to understand capitalism (and all social formations) as evolving protocols of recurrent human relationships (not as reified 'structures'),

  • right to emphasise that capitalism automatically forms and reproduces the great classes of the bourgeoisie and proletariat,

  • right to raise serious questions as to whether the capitalist mode of production really was the end of history.

As is traditional here, I will roll out the relevant quote from György Lukács, with which I agree:
"Let us assume for the sake of argument that recent research had disproved once and for all every one of Marx’s individual theses. Even if this were to be proved, every serious ‘orthodox’ Marxist would still be able to accept all such modern findings without reservation and hence dismiss all of Marx’s theses in toto – without having to renounce his orthodoxy for a single moment.

"Orthodox Marxism, therefore, does not imply the uncritical acceptance of the results of Marx’s investigations. It is not the ‘belief’ in this or that thesis, nor the exegesis of a ‘sacred’ book. On the contrary, orthodoxy refers exclusively to method.

"It is the scientific conviction that dialectical materialism is the road to truth and that its methods can be developed, expanded and deepened only along the lines laid down by its founders."

So having established that Marxism is challenged by HBD research and having suggested that Marxism is not falsified by it - being methodological - what impact does HBD have upon Marxism? It may be true that human populations differ importantly amongst and between themselves for good historical-evolutionary reasons, but it's unsettling and impolite to notice, and doesn't it undermines solidarity in the face of the common bourgeois enemy?

Just as generalised commodity production is the core of Marx's theory of capitalism, human genomic-phenotypic variability is at the heart of HBD. Distinct human populations have distinct evolutionary histories and significant genomic and phenotypic differences. Some recent adaptations, including enhanced cognitive-abstraction and prosocial personality traits, appear to be adaptations to post-tribal environments. Adaptation to new complex-society constraints can be fast, as some theories of Ashkenazim intelligence suggest.

Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) currently being undertaken are expected to demonstrate what observation already makes clear, that certain populations - some sub-Saharan African countries, aboriginal populations in countries such as India - lack a sufficiently large 'smart-fraction' to make a modern capitalist economy work, let alone the implied additional cognitive and prosocial demands of post-capitalism.

That would be the consequence of an evolutionary history which selected for hunter-gatherer/pastoral ecologies - forms of social life which do not reward Einstein-like hyper-abstraction or elevated prosocial personality traits.

Advanced capitalist countries are plainly not uniform in cognitive traits either of course. Half the population is below average, and most individuals could not today undertake the advanced cultural, scientific and technological vocations of elite groups. This is a consequence of heritable variation - not the result purely of inadequate education or life-history.

These points are not stressed in the Marxist tradition.


How will the eventual supersession of capitalism occur? I suggest:
  • There will be no proletarian revolution along the lines of the Bolsheviks in 1917
  • There will be no socialisation of the means of production as currently understood
  • a rising tide of automation will eventually render most human labour uneconomic.
It is the latter which will unravel the fabric of capitalism. Cognitive automation is functional slavery. As wage-labour is removed from the economy, the production of surplus value tends to zero while demand vanishes.  There is then no further incentive to invest.

You can imagine the increasing army of the dispossessed wandering the halls of their automated nirvana and doing what humans always do: bickering, fighting, screaming at each other in righteous indignation and being bored as hell. Some may vanish into virtual worlds.

And some will avail themselves of these new opportunities, possibly using genomic engineering to remake themselves as we already remake our environment, to bring forth a new dawn of culture, science and exploration.


If this is indeed the last, great hope for humanity, then the most important thing is to:
  • encourage the development of the productive forces, which includes combating misplaced agitation for 'equal outcomes', AI scaremongering and blanket lobbying against genetic engineering

  • apply intelligent mitigation against the many dire side-effects of capitalist accumulation - fight for retraining, pro-worker government economic policies, appropriate transfer payments

  • optimise the political conditions for the smoothest transition to post-capitalism.

The latter is likely to take many decades and involve many battles at all scales against the forces of privilege and obscurantism.

I'm sure this is our clearest view of the way forward, but it's not going to be that attractive to those brought up on the Leninist vanguard party. I'm not expecting converts.


Let me finally address the killer question: "What would you do - as a Marxist - about sub-Saharan Africa?"

First I observe that capitalism has completely failed to uplift the SSA economies, despite decades of effort by many well-meaning folk with significant resources. You just can't do much today about that lack of a sufficient smart fraction. Compare with China.

In the future we will be able to do more. At the material level, easy-to-maintain technologies such as solar panels and mobile phones today enrich the environment, particularly in the most deprived circum-urban areas. Improving (and self-maintaining) automation will do so much more, but this will not, by itself, help with unemployment and lack of purpose.

When we have the capabilities - not soon! - we can offer two ways forward: (i) genetic enhancement to boost any attributes which people want; and (ii) synthesised environments - not necessarily virtual - providing people with the means of resolution of their multiple needs.

Some combination of both tracks is the way forward, but we're maybe a century away from being able to realise them fully.

The reader will observe that this is not just a prescription for sub-Saharan Africa, it's a prescription for the whole of humanity.


Marxism and HBD - part 3 (FAQs)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Marxism and HBD - part 1

What would have been the impact on Marx if the theory of human biodiversity (HBD) had been around at the time? Marx knew of course about evolution - he was a fan of Darwin (not reciprocated) - and he seems to have had sensible views on human nature (unlike current left-wing blank-slatism). So it's a hard question.

I don't think HBD would have had much impact on Marx's theory of capitalism per se, where he famously discusses capitalists and others as exemplars of their class behaviour, not as specific human beings.
"I paint the capitalist and the landlord in no sense couleur de rose [i.e., seen through rose-tinted glasses]. But here individuals are dealt with only in so far as they are the personifications of economic categories, embodiments of particular class-relations and class-interests." - Preface to the First German Edition (Marx, 1867) [of Capital, Vol 1].
Equally, the ability of classes and class fractions to unite as one in uprisings and class struggle is not surprising to HBD. It relates to the ongoing issue in behavioural genetics as to how human solidarity above the level of 'family and friends' can evolve and be evolutionarily stable. No one thinks it's a scientific showstopper.

I suspect that HBD's true impact is to complexify post-capitalist governance, as well as the development of the productive forces for populations with overly-limited smart-fractions. Marx wrote little on those topics.


Science is meant to say:  "If this situation pertains, then that will (likely) happen." It's not correct to say: "If this situation pertains, then you ought to do that."

For example, if an individual has a genotype for psychopathy, then a genomic scientist should observe that a certain psychopathic behaviour set is very likely, in a certain environmental context. Leave it to psychotypically-normal lay people to invoke values and call that person evil.

Marx didn't really respect this "Martian anthropologist", dispassionate paradigm. His work brims with moral indignation; it's easy to understand why. But methodologically it's wrong: the proper task of Marxism is to analyse and describe social formations and dynamics.


This is not to ignore the moral issues, our preferred arc of history. How do we avoid the swamp of moral relativism - or worse, the absence of any moral direction at all?

Don't look to Marx for that: look to Darwin.

Darwinism tells us that the purpose of life is to abide and ensure the reproduction of kin - natural selection ruthlessly removes from this universe those genotypes which fail at this most basic of tasks.

If we choose to favour the creation of a more prosperous, less alienating, more just society, it's because we've derived our emotional, value-laden political commitments from that underlying genetic imperative. Living in such a society is best for ourselves and our descendants.

I'm not sure that Marx realised that here was the real source of his incandescent moral outrage.


Where Marx did not transcend the universal category of 'the proletariat', modern Marxists should do better. Developing the productive forces and creating an optimal society has to take account of real differential adaptations and variation in distinct human populations.

But they do have first to be recognised, comrades.


Marxism and HBD - part 2


BTW, if anyone is interested in developing theoretical work in this area let me know through the comments or by email at[*ng*]tznvy.pbz.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Diary: Eon/Tehanu + Rowan + David Harvey

For 'Marxism and HBD' please go here (part 1 of four parts).


Amazon link

I tried. For four nights now I've been reading 'Eon' to Clare - last night she fell (audibly) asleep at the thirty minute mark. 'Eon' is one of my favourite 'sense of wonder' SF novels but reading it aloud highlights the slow, super-expository startup; the way the narrative lays lifelessly on the page.

Amazon link

Tonight we flip to Earthsea Book 4, 'Tehanu'.


Clare plants the new Rowan tree

For the record, we were at Dobbies, Shepton Mallet this lunchtime to buy a Rowan tree for the front garden. I'm told it's good for the birds and that Clare intends one to mark her burial place.

Not in the front garden.


Amazon link

I have ordered David Harvey's 'Limits to Capital'. He has another book, 'Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason', coming out at the end of this month, but having read enough of other people's introductions ..

Amazon link

.. I have decided just to read the great man's work directly, so have started Volume 1 of 'Capital'.

Diary: Blacktop + anomic aphasia

Today has been a physical day. First the hoovering - no joke with thick pile carpets and an exceedingly heavy vacuum cleaner - which I slovenly accomplish once per fortnight. Then, brimming with energy, I did the two mile run into the Mendips in a new best time, just under 18 minutes.

One is pleased with oneself.


I guess it must have been oil on the drive asphalt

This asphalt damage on the driveway is, I think due to an oil spill. It's made the surface spongy and crumbly. After much searching, both in local hardware shops and on the web I ordered this: Dap Blacktop Asphalt Filler & Sealant 27065.

Amazon link

This afternoon, time to put it all together. The Blacktop is squeezed out using the gun thing you see in the picture below. It's brown and thick and poisonous and carcinogenic. Clare got to use her compétences de cuisine to smooth it off.

Clare using her compétences de cuisine

It now has to sit, protected from the rain, for a further 72 hours. They claim it dries to black: God, let's hope so!


Let it be noted that in my mid sixty-sixth year I finally realised that my body was not immortal, that age would wreak its toll on both competences and recovery time. I observed recently that due to over-enthusiastic lifting, I was now experiencing chronic elbow joint and tendon twinges which have not yet recovered. As a consequence I have to rethink this whole weight-lifting thing.

I suspect I will be doing more running and cardio work going forwards, with strength stuff more focussed on the core and upper back, where I have historically had muscle issues. Biceps and triceps can maybe go hang!

At least the brain still mostly works .. oh wait .. yesterday I completely forgot the word 'autistic' for three and a half minutes. I had started with neurotypical and then navigated to Asperger's and then altruism (!) - at which point my left parietal lobe entered an indefinite wait state.

I said to Clare, "Given the amount of hard physical labour, let alone intelligence this house requires to keep it functional, I despair of what will happen when we get old."

She observed that we bought the house from a couple of 90+ year olds, and that it was indeed in a terrible state of disrepair.

We agreed not to get old.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Diary: vexatious Sunday

My day starts with the Sunday Times and I'm reading Dominic Lawson on the James Damore/Google affair. I'm reminded of the illiterate and distorted editorials in The Times and The Economist (previous post) and I fantasise about cancelling my subscriptions as I ponder the old dilemma: (i) do they know the science but choose to lie about it, which makes them mendacious hypocrites; or (ii) have they not even bothered to check the relevant body of knowledge carefully cited by Damore, choosing instead to ventilate their blank-slate wish-fulfillment fantasies - which makes them incompetent.

In either case, why am I spending good money reading them? I console myself that The Economist does a good quarterly Technology Review and The Times occasionally has some useful news in it.


While Clare is at Mass I resume Frederick Beiser's Hegel.

When you read highly abstract discussions relating to substance, essence, the necessary, the contingent, the noumenon and phenomenon, the synthetic a priori, it's tempting to think that the underlying problem set these guys are wrestling with is impossibly abstruse.

Not so: at the end of the eighteenth century, with enlightenment rationality crumbling under the Reign of Terror and religion on the ropes, Hegel and the Romantics are struggling with straightforward questions.
  • Is the universe a Newtonian machine or is there scope for free will?
  • If knowledge is just representations in our minds, can reality be truly known?
  • If we have free will, and God is not a personal judge, whence morality?
I think we have a good scientific framework for these questions today (not, of course, uncontroversial), but Hegel was definitely on the right track. His stuff is abstract both because the right scientific toolset hadn't yet been developed, but also because in a dynamic world of evolving connections, the individual concrete element of reality is conditioned by its relationships with other things - and some of those relationships are inherently abstract.

Quick example: you concretely see a human walking from one location to another where they start doing certain things in a structured way and conversing with others. What extra information about that scenario's history of embedding relations do you need to properly and fully understand what is happening?

If I tell you the person is a priest and he walked to his church? If I say she is a barista and she walked to her coffee shop in a now-desanctified church? How much more do you need to understand completely and fully? A lot.

You get the idea.


In our irreligious age, residual belief in God seems a mere foible. But Hegel was not an atheist, and to be consistent God had to be present in the ontology of reality. Looming over everything was Spinoza's immanent God, a divine presence infusing everything. But this leads to quietist, passive conclusions. If we are part of God, what scope for novelty or freedom?

Hegel adds conflict, dynamics and process through the dialectic, but does he really have a solution?


In the afternoon we strolled to Wookey and had toasted teacakes on our return.

The evening progresses,  I watch BBC coverage of the IAAF World Championships and my distaste with the deep feminisation of media culture surfaces again. Some Brit has just been disqualified in a walking race of epic length after three warnings, at the 10 km mark or thereabouts.

He seems tearful but full of resolve to do better in future. The BBC interviewer is like a trauma therapist: "How do you feel?" "Can you recover from this?" "You put in so much hard work!" ..

Call me systemising rather than empathising but - insofar as I care - I would rather have liked some footage of his DQ faults, and someone explaining technically what he had done wrong and what he should do about it.

Dispassionate analysis? Not what this is about.

OK. I'm done with being vexed for today .. until the BBC News at ten o'clock.