On Singularities and Stopping Them

In his review of Eichmann in Jerusalem, Scott Alexander articulates what, deep down, is probably my own political ideology:

I thank G-d for the annoying obstructionists, for the nitpickers, for the devil’s advocates, for the people who hear something that’s obviously true and strain to come up with an absurd thought experiment where it might not be, for the reflexive contrarians, for the people who always vote third party, for the people who urge you to sign petitions on whitehouse.gov because “then the President has to respond”, for the people who have two hundred guns in their basement “just in case”, for the people who say “well, actually…” all the time, for the mayors of sanctuary cities and the clerks who refuse to perform gay weddings, for the people who think being banned on Twitter is a violation of their human rights, and for the people who swear eternal hostility to other people on the same side who agree with them on 99% of everything. On the spectrum from “totally ungovernable” to “vulnerable to Nazism”, I think that we’ve erred in the right direction.

In other words, the yin-and-yang of American politics, though much derided, is yet necessary and important. We should ultimately be thankful for those with whom we disagree because they are the ones saving us from the nightmares we mistake for utopias.

Any ideology, taken to its extreme, without checks and balances, ends in its own singularity. Neither a Right singularity nor a Left singularity—to use the traditional axis—is a pretty thing. What unites Maoist China or Khmer Rouge Cambodia with Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan is runaway ideology, an ideology wholly institutionalized and not vulnerable to an opposing ideological vector. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if it’s ethnic nationalism or racial egalitarianism driving the vehicle, if it doesn’t have any breaks, it’s going to crash and burn and leave behind lots of mutilated bodies.

The great thing about the West’s republicanism (small r) and parliamentarianism is that they create entropy among competing ideological vectors. When working properly, they make it very difficult for any one worldview to force itself on the others. You get a bunch of Commies in the Senate, well, too bad, they’re blocked by a bunch of redneck nationalists in the House. People like to complain about obstructionism and congressional inaction, but these are good things. Checks and balances. They’re not about ensuring that change is slow as much as ensuring that the change you prefer will never get too far without being checked by the change I prefer. And back and forth and back and forth. That’s what makes American republicanism—when it works—so great: it’s a giant Singularity Stopper. Will it create strife and acrimony and wailing and gnashing of teeth? Absolutely. But at least it won’t allow any one ideology to control the vehicle for too long, lest it crash headlong into its own ideals.

After decades of globalism—with its strange coupling of endless war and endless expansion of rights—America’s political machine has kicked back into gear and put economic nationalism at the helm for a little while. It won’t last, but at least the Trumpenreich will put the breaks on the Leftist singularity that had begun to take shape (e.g., professors tweeting “ironically” about genociding the privileged). After 4-8 years of Trump and Bannon, however, it will be time once again to let the bleeding heart lefties do some of the driving.


Of course, we must be realistic about the demographic particularity of the West’s Singularity Stopping political structures. They were forged in the peculiar fires of European history, and there is no reason to think they can be adopted willy-nilly by peoples who have not had secular flexibility forced into their genealogies. Some seem to take to it quite well (India, Japan), others less so (Iraq). No political structure is portable across populations. Why would we want it to be? That would defeat the core principle of Singularity Stopping. I like republicanism, but that doesn’t mean we should force the entire world into a republican structure, as the neocons would like to do.

We must also be realistic about the tenuous nature of the West’s Singularity Stopping structures. There is no guarantee that these structures won’t be overturned or done away with by some future generation. Already, “cases against democracy” are becoming more commonplace and written by prominent thinkers, but of course, these are cases against republics because that’s what America is. (Thank God we’re not actually a democracy, which is rule by mob and majority faction.) So, the existence in perpetuity of these Singularity Stopping structures is  by no means guaranteed. Various disruptions could lead to the erosion of American republicanism, which, in turn, could send the country hurtling toward destruction of either a left-wing or right-wing nature.

(Apologies to Jim and Spandrell, who have done the most to forward the idea of political singularity.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: