The Four Arrows
A Coda on "Notes on 'Game B: A Dark Renaissance Response w/ Alexander Bard, Cadell Last, Owen Cox, and Raven Connolly'"
(Photo by Daria from TaskArmy.nl)
Yesterday, I posted a collection of notes, thoughts, and fragments on “The Dark Renaissance” response to Game B, which you must be sure to watch if you haven’t seen it yet. Today, I’d like to clarify a few of the ideas discussed yesterday—this piece can be considered “a coda.”
Dr. Cadell Last in his Substack article mentioned “Game A/B,” which brings to mind what was said in the video on The Stoa about “keeping the good of Game A” but leaving behind the bad. Similarly, we should ask what is the good of Game B we can strive to implement? This is an important question, for indeed our current system is struggling. For me, I like to ask, “Is Game B a replacement, reformation, or schism? Likewise, is the Dark Renaissance a replacement, reformation, or schism?” I’ve received different impressions from different thinkers, and I think all three possibilities are worth considering, regarding both Game B and DR. The same can be asked about “Absolute Communities,” as mentioned in the last piece.
Moving forward, instead of discussing Game B or Absolute Communities, I will discuss “Systems,” seeing as I think the logic laid out applies generally. Successfully or not, the details of this work I hope to fill in with Belonging Again.
1. Most Systems on small enough of a scale can work: if they couldn’t, they probably wouldn’t be seriously considered (a kind of “social selection”). Generally, the relationship can be visualized as such:
Some systems are indeed better than others, and a mediocre system on a small scale could “practically” end up better than an excellent system on a large scale. For example, Game A on a “small scale” could be superior to Game B on a “large scale,” and vice-versa. All of that depends and must be debated. (Leopold Kohr is great on this line of thought.)
2. As system scale increases, the likelihood it becomes “cancerous” (to use Alex Ebert’s excellent language) also increases. I think an association can be drawn between “seeking to be big” and “avoiding death.”
(Please note I’ve seen this “problem of scale” discussed by countless people from both Game B and the Dark Renaissance camps, so please don’t take me to think I’m suggesting a new idea.)
2.1 Though I will not restate it every time, please note that “increases in scale” bring with it “the benefits of scale,” such as increased interconnectivity, trade, creative possibilities, and so on.
3. This brings us to Possible/Partial Solution 1 for dealing with the world today: stay small (and forgo some of the benefits) Indeed, “smallness” does seem like an option…
3.1 Ah, but we have a problem: information technologies connect us all together, and interconnectedness inherently “widens scope.” There is both “vertical scale” and “horizontal scale,” and they seem to share a correlative relationship. It does not seem like we can increase our interconnectedness without also increasing our size as of yet. Dividing the correlative relationship of “growing network” with “growing size” seems to be a goal of Web 3.0. However, as of now, it does not seem Web 3.0 has succeeded — I’m not sure, but a successful separation between “growing network” and “growing size” would be a big deal and possibly offer a replacement to “the pricing mechanism” that isn’t like what China (as I understand it) is tragically implementing…
3.2 Thus, at least as of now, it seems to me that if we are to reduce scale, we must also be isolationist. Isolationism entails a lot of sacrifices, separation form the supply chain, reductions in creativity, and the like. Possible/Partial Solution 2: isolationism to maintain small scale, but I personally don’t desire to be isolated from the world. Alternatively, something like “exclusion” could be better, or “clear boundaries,” but all this must be thought out. “Exclusion” could align with social strategies that are moral tribal, as I believed Bard has stressed, though details would have to be filled out.
3.3 Possible Total Solution: Small Scale and Isolationism (“Schism”). But…um…is this what we want? Giving up the internet, separating ourselves from the supply chain…becoming Amish? Perhaps the Amish have it right, but if we don’t think so, we will have to keep thinking…Also, even if we personally decide to become Amish (which I don’t mean to suggest isn’t a respectable decision), it is questionable if the global system can without great trouble, hardship, and consequence.
3.4 A “partial schism” would still require Game A, per se, which means Game B or an Absolute Community would get to live as it wanted while other people worked Game A to make possible levels of interconnectivity in Game B or AC (via cellphone towers, roads, internet providers, etc.). If we decide “the schism” route is the way to go, it would seem to me that only a “total schism” would be just. For this reason, “schism” might not be what we want to do. A just schism, I think, would need to be isolationist and small — but this would be worth debating.
4. The best solution I know of to deal with “the problem of scale” is the pricing mechanism (also because of how it channels pathos, as discussed in the last piece), as described by Fredrich Hayek. I stress that a valid critique of Modern Corporatism or the Financial System is not the same as a deconstruction of “the pricing system.” Those are two different topics: arguing “the profit motivator” is a problem (which is a very fair argument and very true) is not the same as disproving the epistemological function of pricing. (For more on this, please see “The Knowledge Problem” by O.G. Rose).
As system scale increases, the need for a pricing mechanism (and “supply chains” accordingly), which fills the epistemological need of organizing information that can only be known within a particular context from outside of it, likewise increases. The thinking of Fredrich Hayek which articulates this argument is very powerful and must be addressed for us to effectively deal “with the problem of scale.” It should be noted that not even Keynes disagreed: the famous disagreement between Keynes and Hayek more so orbited around the idea that past a certain point of falling demand (what I call “the demand event horizon”), the ability of the market to recover on its own radically lessened. The main debate between Hayek and Keynes was not regarding the role of sorting and organizing information with pricing, but regarding the capacity of the market to replace demand. Though intervention could cause market inefficiencies, Keynes believed that risk could prove necessary to keep aggregate demand from collapsing to levels from which it could not recover in any reasonable amount of time.
Assuming all this, that means:
4.1 Unfortunately, as I understand it, one of the reasons China is investing so heavily into AI, quantum computing, surveillance, and the like is precisely to design central planning that overcomes “the pricing problem.” Once a system scales, if a country wants to avoid “the pricing system” in the name of avoiding “free markets,” that Chinese direction is one they can take, I fear…Now, as already mentioned, it’s an entirely different subject, but “the problem of pricing and scale” seems to be a concern of Web 3.0 (blockchain, NFTs, etc.), and even if we do not approve of how Web 3.0 is currently being implement, it’s an interesting space to investigate.
5. This means that more a pricing mechanism is needed, the higher the likelihood the System turns “cancerous” and fails. This may correlate with the degree “the pricing mechanism” is effective; if it is no longer such due x, y, or z factors, then the likelihood the System works at scale decreases.
6. Funny enough, as scale increases, since there can be increased interconnectedness, there can actually be a decrease in the likelihood of conflict. However, this “peace” is thanks generally to deterrence, which means that if conflict were to occur, it would be extremely bad…
7. And lastly, let’s assume the wonderful Thomas Hamelryck is correct (which I think there is very good reason to do) on the radical intensification of Mimetic Problems with Hyperconnectivity, which can be associated with “increased scale” (his presentation is excellent).
7.1 This is more speculative, but please note that the need for a “pricing mechanism” to channel pathos is perhaps influenced by the presence of a “scapegoat mechanism” (which perhaps suggests both why Christians discuss “substitutionary atonement,” which is very economic in its language, and why Christianity and Capitalism seem linked). After Christ, following Girard, the need for a “pricing mechanism” (relative to scale) perhaps become dire, but as Christianity has failed to properly address “the loss of the scapegoat mechanism,” so too now “the pricing mechanism” has been corrupted into Modern Capitalism. What should be done? Well, that seems to be what both Game B and the Dark Renaissance are interested in figuring out (such as by exploring tantra, tribes, etc.).
8. Okay! I think we can remove a few arrows, seeing as “Likelihood…Cancerous” and “Likelihood Systems Fails” are basically the same thing…Also, “Likelihood of War” and “Severity of War’ balance out as a causal factor and can be absorbed into the first arrow.
Note the paradoxical relationship here, where “the benefits of Scale” correspond with a rise in the likelihood of those benefits becoming “cancerous” (and so not “benefits” at all). Does the pricing mechanism contribute to worsening or treating this “cancer?” Well, it seems like at a certain level of Scale, the pricing mechanism might worsen the “cancer” — those are all the topics and possibilities which must be debated.
9. Now, let’s number the arrows…
Perhaps we as a society carry out Arrow 3 to gain “the benefits of Scale” (cheap prices, access, global connectiveness, etc.), but the more such benefits we gain, the higher the likelihood the system “becomes cancerous” (Arrow 2). To the degree Arrow 4 “works” relative to Arrow 3, Arrows 1 and 2 might be managed. However, if 4 is made in service of 2 due to 3, the likelihood of 1 leading to conflict is high (with the severity of that conflict being relative to Scale).
(I will now move back to discussing DR and Game B versus Systems.)
10. I am going to go out on a limb and say that both Game B and the Dark Renaissance agree about these two arrows…
The debate, discussion, and the like seem to have a lot to do with Arrows 1 and 4 (as proportioned by 2 and 3). (Please note that, as discussed in the last piece, “the price mechanism” is also a system of pathos management, on a growing scale):
11. Now, for the Dark Renaissance, Arrow 1 (which I think we can associate with “pathos”) is big, because it is generally believed that “pathos will always be with us.” Human nature is more consistent, though it is dialectically informed by information technologies (which means the human before the printing press is different from the human with the internet). That means Arrow 1 cannot be erased or “educated away” (only managed), and this means that the most changeable arrow is Arrow 4 (on the pricing mechanism, pathos management, etc.), relative to the other three arrows, which are more fixed in their relationship to one another.
Please note that this does not mean there is a “hard” 1-to-1 correlation between 1, 2, and 3, but that they are all relatively and significantly linked. It is also possible that some individuals gain Absolute Knowing and “overcome” Arrow 1, but the more we increase Scale, the fewer the proportion of people who that will likely be (thus why “Absolute Communities” might have to be small).
For Game B, it would seem Arrows 1 and 4 are more fluid, debatable, and maybe even erasable.
“Truth organizes values,” so this difference in “givens” between DR and Game B significantly shapes their manifestation.
12. Given all this, these are some closing thoughts and impressions I had (which could be entirely wrong, so forgive me if so):
-Arrow 1 can be erased, eased, or dulled. (I stress, this is my impression: I could be wrong.)
-Arrows 2/3 suggests we need to discuss “how small/big” we can be.
-Arrow 4 can be replaced, lived with, or will play a limited role relative to Scale.
-The emphasis regarding design is on Arrows 1 and 4, and the emphasis on management is 2 and 3.
-Arrow 1 is impossible to erase and very difficult to manage.
-Arrows 1, 2, and 3 grow together (which I would argue intensifies the need to address, replace, reform, etc. Arrow 4).
-Arrow 4 is the space where creative energies need to be poured from a place of awareness that Arrows 1–3 are relatively “fixed (together).”
-The emphasis regarding design is on Arrow 4 and managing 1 through 3.
If it is the case that both Game B and The Dark Renaissance actually agree on the relative inescapability and interconnectedness of Arrows 1, 2, and 3, then they don’t disagree as much as it seems, and the debate is ultimately a debate on “where to draw the line” on Scale (like the debate between Hayek and Keynes on the State’s role), and/or if Alternative Communities must be situated “within the current system” (versus entirely replace it). In my mind, this would mean both Game B and the DR are different movements of reform.
That said, if either movement ultimately wants to be a movement of replacement at a large scale, the focus needs to be on Arrow 4. That’s at least what I’ve personally concluded, and seeing as I think there is very good reason to think Arrow 4 is “broken” in Modern Capitalism (for a whole slew of reasons), then we have a very severe problem, for Arrow 4 helps Arrow 3 increase while keeping 2 from being realized, all while managing Arrow 1 accordingly. If Arrow 1 is not managed, I think the DR is correct to emphasize the severity of the consequences.
In closing, in my mind, the severity of this problem (and all the debate accordingly) correlates with the Scale at which we want to implement a given System. On small enough of a Scale, there is barely any need for a debate, for both Systems will likely work well enough, and then it’s just up to people to decide where they want to live. Again, the necessity of the debate correlates with the Scale.
In my view, the necessity of taking the DR critique into account increases as we increase Scale (regardless if we assume human nature is changeable or not (Arrow 4), for on a large Scale, “more human natures” have to be changed, and thus the problem of Mimetic Rivalry is intensified regardless). Assuming Game B works (and even is “the best of all possible ways of life,” which it may or may not be), I think we can generally visualize the situation as follows:
Lastly, before anyone assumes I am against Game B, it should be noted that my family and I live a life that sounds a lot like Game B. We also helped start and operate a community called Eunoia, which reminds me a lot of Jim Rutt’s work, so please do not take me to be against all their efforts. My intention in this work was only to highlight what strikes me as the main issues of debate and discussion.
From what I’ve read, I think Game B is very aware of the difficulties I’ve outlined in this work, with the mains points of debate between Game B and DR seeming to orbit around Arrow 1 and Arrow 4. I could actually imagine Game B and DR converging and agreeing upon ways to deal with Arrow 4, though on Arrow 1 there might always be differences. Personally, I’m extremely curious to see how the discussion ends up, and I’m very glad that it is happening at all.
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A finalist for the 2020 UNO Press Lab Prize and 46th Pushcart Nominee, O.G. Rose's creative works appear at The Write…