Give Dictatorship A Chance?


My latest piece for The Baffler tackles what one reader described, on Twitter, as the “creeping fascism in tech”. It’s titled, Mouthbreathing Machiavellis Dream Of A Silicon Reich and, yes, I wrote that title. The article concerns a group of people who advocate, more or less openly, for the abolishment of democracy and the institution of absolute dictatorship, ideally led by some billionaire Silicon Valley CEO. It happens that a number of Silicon Valley CEOs are totally on board.

The early reactions have been gratifying, even the hostile comments from the pro-dictatorship camp. You may know me by my enemies, and all that.

Here is my favorite:

Please note that the author of all these knee-jerk reactions to supposed ‘racism’ is a well-dressed middle-upper class male in Corey Pein. Do we really need successful white male journalists to fight racism and hierarchy in print and label everyone who does not as ‘Moldbug’ or a potential member of Stormfront?

“Well-dressed…successful…” Now that’s my kind of detractor!

If my current white T-shirt-black athletic socks-cutoff denim jean shorts ensemble counts as haute couture, I suppose I should stop worrying about taking out the trash in my bathrobe. As for “middle-upper class,” I guess this means I’m successfully passing?

The above quote appeared on Hacker News, whose techie users briefly voted the story onto the front page before it was, for whatever reason, sent down the memory hole. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, since Y Combinator, the startup “incubator” that runs HN, also hosted the wild secessionist speech I quoted in the Baffler piece.

Another HN user struck a reflective tone:

When the Snowden/NSA revelations hit, and I realized that I’d been participating for 30 years in the willing construction of the new Panopticon, I was mighty depressed. What good the awesome tech of the world if we are using it to oppress and enslave our fellow man? …

But now I see that in fact, it is meant to be this way. In fact, generations of technologists have been raised to believe that their way is the most righteous (in the full sense of the word) – simply because it is supported by technological prowess. A kind of power which governs the willing and the unwilling equally.

So now I think that technology is not the answer. Social revolution is the answer, but of course all the good, old tools of social revolution have been usurped. The new Facebook religion rules us all.

So now I resolve even harder to teach the kids the old ways: freedom, liberty, equality for all.

There was a friendly thread on Reddit, of all places.

One reader there had this to say about the “neoreactionaries” (a term that doesn’t quite capture the toxicity of the ideology):

[T]hese people are delusional – not just about how the rest of the world works, but about their own field. The original premise from Tunney, Yarvin, et al is that we should cede absolute control to an industry that, not even 20 years ago, bet the farm on Currently it’s busy creating multibillion dollar valuations of companies that come up with better ways to share selfies… The central argument essentially becomes the idea that, given the momentary trajectory of the drunken lurch of an industry on a cheap money bender, we should abandon control of our society to people who think it can be won like some grand strategy video game.

Another wrote:

As I was reading this article, at first I was bewildered why someone would spend so much time debunking some weird libertarian on the internet. [That’s how I felt after an editor OK’d the pitch and I realized I’d have to read all of these blogs. –CP] When I got to the part about Friedman, Thiel, and that Stanford professor, I immediately became frightened for my future. What the fuck. This is worse than AnCapitalism. These people have real world influence and money. What a scary thought, our future is literally going to be a culmination of every good and bad dystopian sci-fi movie we saw growing up.

Klint Finley, whose November TechCrunch post introduced me and many others to the odd subculture of self-professed “neoreactionaries,” has a detailed response on his own blog along with a few quibbles, to which I’ve responded privately and may do so publicly at some point.

Finally, at the FT Alphaville blog, Izabella Kaminska compares the Silicon Valley secessionists to James Bond villains. Kaminska concludes,

Here’s hoping in any case that if nationhood is disrupted it’s not due to the formation of superior autocratic corporate states with very specific corporate visions and cultist dictators but rather due to the rise of social mobility and greater commonalities between us all.

That seems like a nice place to leave it, for now.

Update May 22: A couple of people called out my use of the term “mouthbreathing” as insensitive given that it can be symptomatic of various medical conditions, none of which have to do with stupidity. One of those readers sent me a link to this Science Daily article on the subject, which I now faithfully pass along to you.

Others, including Baltimore City Paper staff writer Edward Ericsson Jr., followed the FT in noting the similarity of the Dark Enlightenment vision to that of various James Bond villains:

No chin? Check. Convoluted prose? Check. Delusions of grandeur? Check Check! But where, pray tell, is the white cat?

Also finance blogger Dizzynomics, who calls my Baffler piece “the must read article of the month.”

The neoreactionaries initially complained that I didn’t meet their ill-considered assertions point for point in an endless kanagroo debate society time-suck, like this poor guy did.

Formal debates are only productive if the parties meet in good faith, and this particular clique has demonstrated its immunity to contrary evidence time and again. I alluded to this tendency in the article with a quote from neoreactionary blogger Mencius Moldbug regarding his method of argument: “The neat thing about primary sources is that often, it takes only one to prove your point.”

What’s the use in arguing with someone who believes that? Others have tried. Here is a survivor’s testimonial that I came across in my research:

If there is a germ of useful provocation in Moldbug’s posts–a glimmer of a productive idea that could be the basis of a discussion–those germs are more than vitiated by his sprawling, associative, and bombastically categorical writing. Based on what I’ve read on this blog (note the qualification Moldbug, you should try it sometime) I don’t think Moldbug is capable of focusing his thoughts or his writing in a way that facilitates a rational exchange of ideas.

I don’t care what Moldbug’s ideological bent is; I don’t have the energy or the time to read him because his writing is so poor. He can’t develop a single point (or a series of points that build to a larger point); he can’t adduce relevant evidence; and he can’t identify and answer relevant objections to his arguments without sweeping, ad hominem attacks.

From what I can gather from a skim, Moldbug has no love of academia, and I am sure he can justify his abrogation of some of its guiding principles. But why did clarity and precision have to be renounced as well?

To be clear: My task was simply to describe and contextualize the views of this political subculture for a wider audience. Now, despite the reality that a majority of people find their views repellant and disturbing, neoreactionaries are clinging to the “no bad publicity” theory. Here is neoreactionary and “futurist” blogger Michael Anissimov, writing in response to the Baffler piece:

The best thing these Marxist magazines could do is not mention [Moldbug] at all, but they insist on doing so and continuing to raise his profile. The only reason for the answering is that Moldbug and cohort represent a superstimulus that trips all the hateflags Marxist hipsters crave. … A couple years ago, neoreaction was undoubtedly obscure, whereas today it is getting extremely high-level exposure.

The same criticism applies to other neoreactionary writers. They are united not only in hatred but by their Philistine methods.

Another blogger responded by publishing a version of my story that had been reedited to create a kind of Burroughsesque collage of pejoratives. Clever?

Many responses betray a sense foreboding and vulnerability at the threat of exposure. From Twitter:

Corey Pein and these other Marxist journalists are only one step away from holding positions of greater influence at NY Times or the BBC.

Right. Could someone please tell Sulzberger? Please also mention that I am already well-dressed.