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Long Read of the Week: A brief explanation of the cathedral – by Curtis Yarvin (aka Moldbug)

The mystery of the cathedral is that all the modern world’s legitimate and prestigious intellectual institutions, even though they have no central organizational connection, behave in many ways as if they were a single organizational structure.

Most notably, this pseudo-structure is synoptic: it has one clear doctrine or perspective. It always agrees with itself. Still more puzzlingly, its doctrine is not static; it evolves; this doctrine has a predictable direction of evolution, and the whole structure moves together.

For instance: in 2021, Harvard, Yale, the Times, and the Post are on the same page. If there exists any doctrinal difference between any two of these prestigious American institutions, it is too ineffable for anyone but a Yale man to discern. (Though it may say something that Gray Mirror is not taught at Harvard.)

In 1951, Harvard, Yale, the Times, and the Post were on the same page. But Yale in 1951 was on nowhere near the same page as Yale in 2021. If you could teleport either Yale into the other’s time zone, they would see each other as a den of intellectual criminals.

So it’s not just that everyone—at least, everyone cool—is on the same page. It’s more like: everyone is reading the same book—at the same speed. No wonder all the peasants are seeing conspiracies in their motherfucking soup. If you saw a group of bright red dots move across the evening sky this way, what would you think they were? Pigeons? Remote-controlled pigeons, illuminated by lasers? Sometimes even Occam is baffled.

Moreover, this mystery is critical to the nature, fate, and epistemology of our society, because we regard the distributed nature of these prestigious and trusted institutions as an inviolable principle of our intellectual security. We would never concede this level of axiomatic infallibility to a single organization, like the Catholic Church—that would be putting all our brains in one basket. No egghead would make that mistake.

While we are aware that individuals—even very smart individuals—can go extremely awry in their perception and analysis of reality, and while we have seen even groups do the same thing (hence “groupthink”), we are sure they cannot all go wrong together. To err is human—but eliminating error is just a function of sufficient statistical power.

But statistics only work if your samples are independent. If some mysterious force is coordinating them—you are not measuring reality, you are just measuring that force.

And indeed, our samples seem only nominally independent. While we can detect no obvious organizational connection between them, they are highly correlated. And they retain these correlations even as they move across long periods of time.

We can expect this form of coordinated progress in hard science and engineering. These fields are tightly constrained by two inexorable forces: physical reality and human ignorance. The latter relaxes its grip only by painfully-won millimeters.

But the physical and human situation of the arts and humanities—of philosophy, ethics, literature, religion and politics—has been largely unchanged for millennia. We see no evidence of any extrinsic and unidirectional force that should be coordinating these fields. Yet these are just the fields that seem to be moving the fastest.

Who are we? Where are we going? If we could understand the forces that are driving us, we could predict where we are going. Unfortunately, the answer may be: hell.

A parable

On the continent of Mu, there are two nations, Mundana and Mutopia. Like Burundi and Rwanda, they have very similar populations and very different governments.

Mundana is a traditional absolute monarchy with an official state religion, like Tsarist Russia. Mutopia is a progressive liberal democracy, like here but more so. In Mundana you are beheaded for even acting gay; in Mutopia you are required to try it at least, like, once.

Mundana has erected its so-called Titanium Curtain between itself and this utter filth, preventing all social and intellectual contact. But in Mundana, too, there are liberal intellectuals—some people, it turns out, are born that way. These free-thinkers are of course hunted by the Tsar’s secret police and must use funky encrypted Internet stuff to live, breathe, think, shitpost, and make gay bondage dates.

Whereas Mutopia, of course, is run by liberal intellectuals. To be precise: Mutopia is governed by a permanent administrative state which implements policies designed by liberal professors at prestigious institutions and supervised by liberal journalists at prestigious institutions. These are hard gigs to get, and great gigs to have. And no one need supervise the professors and journalists—they are self-watching watchmen. Nice!

Now: which liberal intellectuals do you think will have better ideas, pound for pound? Remember that the Mundanan intellectuals can’t hear what the Mutopians are saying, or vice versa—these are two entirely separate marketplaces of ideas.

Your intuitive answer is that you’ll get better, more premium content from Mundanan dissidents than Mutopian professors. Let’s look at why you’re right.

Selective advantage of dominant ideas
The sewage that is polluting the lake is sovereignty. The dissidents have better ideas than the professors because the professors have sovereignty and the dissidents don’t.

The professors and journalists have sovereignty because final decisions are entrusted to them and there is no power above them. Only professors can formulate policy—that is, set government strategy; only journalists can hold government accountable—that is, manage government tactics. Strategy plus tactics equal control.

The dissidents do not have sovereignty because neither the Tsar nor the Church cares what they think. These powers do care that they think, and their only wish is for this thinking to cease—furthermore, they know just where to make the incision. Dissidents have no good reason to think at all—so it doesn’t matter at all what they’re thinking.

So in the furtive, candle-lit garrets of dissident Mundana, the ideas that win are just the best ideas; the intellectuals that win are just the best thinkers. In Mundana, the only selective advantage an idea can have is its mere truth and/or beauty. The life of a Mundanan dissident is terrible but diamond-hard and extremely pure.

Whereas in the lecture halls and newsrooms of Mutopia, there is a market for dominant ideas. A dominant idea is an idea that validates the use of power. Such an idea will enjoy a selective tailwind in the Mutopian market.

And there is no market for recessive ideas. A recessive idea is an idea that invalidates power or its use. Such an idea will fight a selective headwind in the Mutopian market. Neither of these distorting evolutionary effects appears among Mundanan dissidents.

Consider the problem of climate change…

Consider it and RTWT at A brief explanation of the cathedral – by Curtis Yarvin – Gray Mirror

[Note: New material by Yarvin aka Mencius Moldbug written after the untimely death of his wife is found at Gray Mirror .]

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Casey Klahn October 8, 2021, 9:33 AM

    Answer: leadership. Any one of, and all of, the fields examined need some mutha frippin leadership if they’re ever going to change.
    I will comment more later.

  • ghostsniper October 8, 2021, 10:09 AM

    I just prefer to make my own decisions in all things. The idea of relinquishing control over my life, even just a tiny bit, is anathema to all I stand for. I’m not a good follower or leader resist any attempt by others to make me do so. I only play well with others that I choose. Long periods of time have shown I can’t be changed. No matter the obstacle I will find a way past it, on my journey.

    • BP October 8, 2021, 1:49 PM

      I’m right there with you ghost. I maintain that adults don’t need leaders. However…

      There are those that have more or less knowledge than I in many facets of life. I have been an unwilling teacher and a less than disciplined student. There is a subtle difference between leader/follower and teacher/student. I hope I’m getting wiser as well as older.

  • Jim in Oxford October 8, 2021, 11:30 AM

    Calmly We Walk through This April’s Day

    Calmly we walk through this April’s day,
    Metropolitan poetry here and there,
    In the park sit pauper and rentier,
    The screaming children, the motor-car
    Fugitive about us, running away,
    Between the worker and the millionaire
    Number provides all distances,
    It is Nineteen Thirty-Seven now,
    Many great dears are taken away,
    What will become of you and me
    (This is the school in which we learn …)
    Besides the photo and the memory?
    (… that time is the fire in which we burn.)

    (This is the school in which we learn …)
    What is the self amid this blaze?
    What am I now that I was then
    Which I shall suffer and act again,
    The theodicy I wrote in my high school days
    Restored all life from infancy,
    The children shouting are bright as they run
    (This is the school in which they learn …)
    Ravished entirely in their passing play!
    (… that time is the fire in which they burn.)

    Avid its rush, that reeling blaze!
    Where is my father and Eleanor?
    Not where are they now, dead seven years,
    But what they were then?
    No more? No more?
    From Nineteen-Fourteen to the present day,
    Bert Spira and Rhoda consume, consume
    Not where they are now (where are they now?)
    But what they were then, both beautiful;

    Each minute bursts in the burning room,
    The great globe reels in the solar fire,
    Spinning the trivial and unique away.
    (How all things flash! How all things flare!)
    What am I now that I was then?
    May memory restore again and again
    The smallest color of the smallest day:
    Time is the school in which we learn,
    Time is the fire in which we burn.

  • james wilson October 8, 2021, 12:03 PM

    Great link, VDL. This clarifies what otherwise may have stayed asleep in my brain.

  • James ONeil October 8, 2021, 12:32 PM

    “And they’ll keep getting better—for a while…”
    & in the grand scheme of things, things get, got, were and are, worse for a longer while.

    Oh well, the key is, and always was to pick the right parents to birth you and pick right place and the right minute to be born. In that grand scheme of things I don’t think most of us here chose too bad.

  • arcs October 11, 2021, 4:16 AM

    Someone should cartoon Yarvin’s parable.