GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

July 16, 2016

Automated Stratification

Filed under: GA — adam @ 5:43 am

Eric Gans’s latest Chronicle, “The Administrative State and the Victimocracy” raises a set of interrelated questions which GA urgently needs to turn its attention to. I’m going to focus on the following two paragraphs in particular:

I believe that the victimary arrogance of the Left at the present moment is dependent on a factor that I have discussed several times without pretending to be able to calculate its quantitative effect: that of modern, intelligent automation, which as I have claimed is in the process of effecting the first essential separation within humanity by severing the common symbolic link (as expressed in religious and civil ritual) among the social classes. For the first time, a whole segment of the population, more or less the “Belmont” of Charles Murray’s Coming Apart, has been detached from the “common folk,” not simply by privilege as in the past, but by the ability to use symbols. GA takes this more seriously than the workaday anthropologies we live with because GA takes seriously the definition of humans as users of language. In particular the split occurs most sharply in language’s least “humanistic,” most narrowly symbolic function: the pure empty tokens of mathematics, the ability to manipulate which becomes increasingly a qualification for the higher forms of work (“STEM”). Perhaps (true) affirmative action can work to bring the two sides together, but as Murray’s book, which deliberately excludes racial minorities from consideration, suggests, this is certainly not to be solved by attacking “white privilege” or putting (often black) policemen on trial for “racist” brutality.

The point is to understand that the heat of all these resentful thoughts is meant to make us forget the “cold light of reason,” which tells us that only some as yet undiscovered form of human engineering will make those currently in the (former) “working class” capable of handling the symbolic activities of tomorrow’s industrial society. Without falling into economic determinism, I think one can say that the world’s current ills, from radical Islam to the sclerosis of the administrative state in Europe and increasingly, the US, all in one way or another reflect the persistent inequalities that depend more and more not on “privilege” but on qualifications, and ultimately, on native abilities, albeit enhanced by the more nourishing childhoods characteristic of the Belmont class. Huxley’s Brave New alpha-epsilon categories, contemporaries of the word robot invented for Capek’s RUR, seem to be proving eerily prophetic. Save, of course, that as bearers of the moral model of reciprocal human equality, we cannot condone a hierarchy of this sort, so that when it manifests itself in some domain of the social order, it must be denied by all means at our disposal.

This account certainly helps us to address the problem of victimary resentment more dispassionately—there is, in fact, a dramatically new and potentially uniquely intractable form of inequality, even if it’s not the inequality the victimary activists complain about. This stratification within the symbolic function may not explain the gender/sexuality wing of the victimocracy, but, then again, that wing might be largely parasitic on the racial one (with” race” defined broadly to include, as the victimocrats insist, opposing cultures and civilizations, such as the West vs. Islam). The anti-immigration (and, I wouldn’t say “white nationalist” but rather “anti-anti-white,” while I maintain the hope that “albaphobia” might someday catch on) website VDARE has one writer who regularly posts on advances in automation—the immediate point is the lessening necessity for importing cheap labor, but there is also a vague sense in many postings that automation might be as destructive to the native working class as immigration itself. And the increase in assortative mating—doctors used to marry nurses, now they marry other doctors, businessmen and lawyers used to marry secretaries, now they marry their peers, etc.—is leading to a heritable class and even at least quasi-racial stratification corresponding to the stratification between those capable and those incapable of advanced “symbolic analysis.”
While this economic stratification is the bigger civilizational problem, I think the furious victimary resentment addresses a different side of automation. Automation has the potential to reduce resentments insofar as it makes it possible to take all kinds of decisions out of human hands (or, at least, remove those decisions to more distant hands). If a police department can have its computer experts do increasingly nuanced mathematical analyses on crimes rates and perpetrators in specific neighborhoods, at specific times, then crime fighting depends less and less upon the judgments and intuitions of police officers—you can stop someone and question him because you can show that he is, according to calculations that can be checked, 7.4x more likely to commit a crime than the guy you didn’t stop—rather than stopping him because he seemed like a “troublemaker.” The same goes for banks loans, school admissions and hiring—all these decisions can be taken out of human hands, and “inputs” (measurable capacities) correlated with increasing accuracy to “outputs” (performance). Since everyone can guess that the results will not conform to egalitarian fantasies, it is this component of automation that is intolerable, and must be resisted at all costs. It’s also harder to rationalize resistance, though—rather than the cop on the beat, or the loan officer at the bank, or the manager at the plant, being “racist,” the entire system of symbolic analysis must somehow be racist—and, since you can’t develop a better, “non-racist” mathematical analysis, the racism embedded in the “inputs” must take on an almost mystical omnipresence, a taint which we can’t even really explain much less cleanse ourselves of. And the victimocrats are not the ones developing the COMPSTATS; the victimocrats are those with humanities and social science degrees that enable them to “prove” that the inequities lie deep within reality itself, and the STEM people are not equipped to fight back on this politicized terrain. It is here that the real battle against the victimocracy must be fought, in the name of the liberation of the algorithm and the recognition of human difference.

The problem of automation has existed since the beginning of industrialization, but it may be becoming more critical. It used to be that each new wave of automation would destroy whole sectors of the economy, laying off large parts of the workforce, but the increase in the size of markets and the entrance of whole new populations to the workforce and market as consumers would create the number of jobs needed to replace those lost. In the end, there would be significant displacement, which would generate some short-term political effects, but since the resentments always came from a “backward” minority of the workforce, those effects were never particularly consequential. We have been conditioned to assume it will always work like this, but maybe it won’t. Marx’s main argument for communism was not the injustice of the exploitation of workers, but the projected consequences of the unlimited technological development capitalism makes possible—if all you need to provide everyone with the food, clothing, shelter and entertainment they need is to flip a switch, what would be the logic of paying people to work? In order to maintain the wage-labor system, you would have to, perversely, deprive people of what you could readily provide them free of cost. Buckminster Fuller argued that free education up to the highest levels was cost-effective because if you educated 1,000 people for free, at least one out of those 1,000 would invent something that would pay for the education (and more) of the other 999. His colleague, Marshall McLuhan, anticipated that we would soon be paying people to go to school, as if the process of learning itself, presumably within a more “rational” educational system, would be wealth generating. The fact that the notion of a guaranteed minimum income for all citizens has been taken seriously by politicians of both the right and the left since the Nixon Administration (which got the idea, I think, from libertarian economist Milton Friedman) demonstrates that belief in the possibility of a “post-work” society persists despite (or because of) the poor performance of the actual economy according to conventional measures. (No doubt it is easy to call those measures into question—why does everyone need to work, in which case why should we worry about high levels of unemployment? Why does the economy need to “grow” a certain amount? Etc.)

But what renders all such perhaps quite realistic speculation utopian is a good look at our fellow men and women. What would all these people do if they didn’t have to work, or find some way, even illicit, to acquire money? For the Marxists and “visionaries” like McLuhan and Fuller it was possible to imagine that what held us back was the “alienation” caused by institutions that were either oppressive or designed for a “scarcity” rather than “abundance” society—redesign the institutions, and hitherto unimaginable human potential would flourish. A more rigorous and sober anthropology would considerably dampen this enthusiasm. Hannah Arendt had the more prescient question: would would happen to a society whose entire economic and moral order is based on “labor” when labor is no longer necessary? What would everyone do if they didn’t have to work? Write commentaries on Plato? Develop Generative Anthropology? Invent new “apps”? Play Pokemon Go? I think Fuller’s numbers might be on the mark—about one out of a thousand would do one or more of the first three, and the other 999 the last. In that case, why go to school—why have schools? (What did Fuller think the other 999 would do?) What if the top .01% decides they don’t want to waste their time providing the necessities of life and amusements to the rest?

Yes, it will take “some as yet undiscovered form of human engineering” to answer these questions. In very broad terms, though, the answer is obvious: if we don’t rely upon a division of labor to feed, clothe, house, transport, etc., one another, then we will have to make ourselves useful to each other in new ways. We already see the beginnings of this in the new professions that have proliferated in the therapeutic age—all kinds of counseling and advice dealing with increasingly minute emotional questions and arcane areas of interest. More and more people are becoming what Peter-Solterdijk calls “trainers.” People will discover things they have to offer to others, and things they’d rather let others do for them, and it won’t necessarily depend upon native intelligence or even talent. If you managed to lost 100 pounds and get yourself in shape you are “qualified,” through a minimum of self-reflection and narrative ability, to help others do the same. The trainer enables you to construct your reality in a new way: while previously you were a victim of circumstances you can now, by identifying and modifying your own responses to those circumstances, become the master of them. The most famous exemplar of such producer’s desire is Oprah Winfrey, who has always been a punch line for high and even middle brow types while being revered by precisely those most threatened by our increasingly intelligently symbolic order. So, the solution to automated stratification is the spread of producer’s desire. (If you’re supporting yourself by making yourself useful to others by doing something you love, why should you care that someone else is making 1000x as much as you?) How far can such desire spread? How far would it have to spread to support a workable social order? Those are things we can’t yet know, but the fact that human nature remains rooted in mimesis and rivalry leaves open the possibility that people will continue to strongly desire to interact with and prove themselves with and against others.


  1. Without discounting the value of producers’ desire, or automation, i think there would still be room for expanding the (mixed producerist) consumerist wage economy if there were sufficiently sovereign governments that forgot about the victimary in favour of the esthetic: renovate all our ugly, noisy cities; put busy roads underground, rebuild all the third-rate housing and tasteless commercial buildings, double the number of cleaners (beautification specialists) , art buyers, nurses, (triple) gardeners, even border guards where needed; reduce classroom size while expanding and making sports, crafts, and academics more competitive.

    Indeed if the victimary elites weren’t so insecure to both encourage and politicize mass immigration, alienating all, attacking nation producers/consumers (instead of helping spread producers’ desire globally), and while forcing mass unemployment on southern Europe (instead of rethinking the role of debt, jubilees, and national monetary policies), i bet we’d already be talking in the West about the full employment economy crying out for more automation (is automation considered a big problem in child poor Japan?) given the fertility decline that is partly tied to the high cost of reproducing human capital. Anyway, if it takes two doctors to pump out only 1.5 children likely to become a doctor, and many women don’t marry, then any new social stratification still leaves room for new entrants even with population/demand decline. And the difference in social status between highly talented and ordinary joes need not be made a huge bone of contention where people are creatively occupied, as you point out.

    Comment by John — July 16, 2016 @ 1:21 pm

  2. Yes, I have no doubt that you’re right.

    Comment by adam — July 16, 2016 @ 2:21 pm

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