Why Communism Failed

What went wrong with the Soviet Union and the com­munist revolution can hardly be said to hinge upon the wrongdoings or moral flaws of any single person like Joseph Stalin. Or Vladimir Lenin, for that matter. It’s true that Lenin was a kind of authoritarian dev­iation from mainstream Marxist socialism, but it is also a fact that the only kind of socialist system (in name if nothing else) that has ever existed on any larger scale has been of the authoritarian bent. If you list all of the libertarian socialists, anarchists and left-wing Marxists, these are all theorists and philosophers. If you list the leading authoritarian soc­ialists, these are all real leaders with real power. Coincidence?

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications.

“Trotsky wouldn’t have saved the communist experiment. Nor would Lenin had his health been better.”

It’s not a coincidence. Some people like to say that “real socialism has never been tried”. But as you’ll see, it has never been tried because it has never been possible in the first place. And this impossibility is exactly what has derailed all real attempts.

Let’s go on with the story. Lenin’s doctrine which guided the 1917 rev­olution (or coup) was an authoritarian dev­iation of the ideals of sociali­sm, effectively banning worker control of factories and other socialist elem­ents, and the other Bolshevik leader, Leon Trotsky, soon followed this elitist top-down per­spective.

Lenin died in 1924, Stalin took over and from there on it was mounting tot­alitarianism and violent oppression, culminating in the 1937-38 Great Purge. If Stalin hadn’t won the power stru­ggle, other and similar problems had still been likely to occur. Stalin’s con­test­ant Trotsky was even crazier. He was more optimi­stic about a communist revolution in Ger­many (and less opti­mistic about Stalin’s “soc­ial­ism in one country”) and would thus have been likely to have ado­pted a blatantly aggressive foreign policy—more wars, more peo­ple killed. Trotsky also had a more radical vision of the malleability of the human mind; that everyone could become Aristotle—an exceedingly dan­gerous and cult-like idea. Quoting Trotsky himself:

“It is difficult to predict the extent of self-government which the man of the future may reach or the heights to which he may carry his technique. Social construction and psycho-physical self-education will become two aspects of one and the same process. All the arts—literature, drama, painting, music and architecture will lend this process beautiful form. More correctly, the shell in which the cultural construction and self-education of Communist man will be enclosed, will develop all the vital elements of contemporary art to the highest point. Man will become immeasurably stronger, wiser and subtler; his body will become more harmonized, his movements more rhyth­mic, his voice more musical. The forms of life will become dyna­mically dramatic. The average human type will rise to the heights of an Ari­stotle, a Goethe, or a Marx. And above this ridge new peaks will rise.”[i]

There’s an interesting tension here: On the one hand, Trotsky appr­oa­ches some of the metamodern developmental perspectives, seeing the hum­an being as a project of playful self-recreation; on the other hand, he falls into the traps of utopianism (the non-relative kind) and idealizing his own image of what a good human being would be like. He didn’t realize that the only credible form of utopia is relative, and he never referred to any sound theories of psycho­logical devel­opment. He simply believed that once a socialist society had been achieved, then a new and better human­ity would emerge and a just social order would come into being once and for all. Consequently, everything became a means to this impossible end; after all, the zealous revolutionary would think, what’s a few millions deaths if that’s the price of achieving an absolute utopian ideal. This, of course, puts one on a path to totalitarian­ism. We must thus stay clear of the mistakes rep­re­sented by Trotsky and others like him. These are dan­gerous intellectual waters we are cross­ing.

Present-day Marxists often say that critics of Marx have failed to grasp the depth and entirety of Marx’s writings, in particular the three volumes of his magnum opus, Capital. But if you read the writings of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, there can be little doubt that they knew their Marx very well. And if you read e.g. Simon Sebag Montefiore’s bio­graph­ies, it is apparent that even Stalin was very intellectually gifted: rea­ding Dar­win at thirteen in one sitting, becoming an acclaimed poet at 16, master­­minding an impressive bank robbery at 29, and managing an in­credibly large and diverse workload as military leader and head of state—all while producing writings that were not necessarily innovative, but cer­tainly well written and incisive. For instance, you have Dialectical and Historical Materi­alism, in which he relates to not only Marxist doctrine but also a wider philosophical canon including Hegel, Kant, Feuerbach and others. As such, I seriously doubt that a better and more detailed reading of Marx is the solution to the problems of Marxism, communism and soc­ialism.

As you may know, Trotsky was eventually murdered on Stalin’s orders by a Soviet agent with an icepick to the head in Mexico City. But com­munism was doomed to fail long before this. Trotsky wouldn’t have saved the communist experiment. Nor would Lenin had his health been better.

Let’s find out what really went wrong.

“…an appeal to ‘human nature’ and her inn­ate individuality is of course a rom­antic reciting of beliefs rather than a behavioral-scientific explanation.”

The Mainstream/Libertarian Account

What then can account for the structural failure of the communist pro­ject, as viewed altogether? Well, in all places where you see communism (or “socia­list” states claiming to attempt to achieve full communism, which is when the state itself has been made obsolete), there are one-party syst­ems, human rights abuses, limits to civil liberties and severe problems with the eco­n­omy—as recent relapses in Venezuela re­mind us. These socie­ties sim­ply don’t last; their social sustainability is quite limited.

I suppose you’ve heard the common wisdom response? “Communism was not just a nice idea that turned out to be terrible in prac­tice—it was a terrible idea that was consequently (and predictably) terrible in practice!” All mainstream critiques of communism argue along these lines, more or less. This holds true from more sophisticated versions, like in the Polish philo­sopher Leszek Kołakowski’s meticulous studies[ii] of the inherent flaws of Marxism, over Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Ene­mies, to Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s massive, intense literary mas­ter­piece The Gulag Archi­pelago, which derives the horrors of comm­unist forced labor camps directly from Marxist-Leninist doctrines.

This line of argument (often put forth by libertarians and conserva­tives, but increasingly by everyone) holds—more or less explicitly—that comm­unism was a mistake be­cause it failed, morally and intel­lect­ually, to under­stand human nature it­self. This is the case even in Solzhenitsyn’s exist­en­tialist account.

According to the libertarian mainstream account, humans are not coll­ectivist beings who value equal­ity over all—so the argu­ment goes—they are freedom-loving individuals, who need to find their own paths in life in order to find meaning and dignity. As such they must be allowed to com­pete on free markets, serving them­selves first—in fair exchanges with one another, where goods and respect are earned by hard work and good char­acter. They must reap the rewards of ind­ividual action, of innovation, of reason­able and free competition. In this view, the closer you come to a libertarian capitalist standpoint, the farther away you are from Gulag and the secret police knocking on your door.

But concealed beneath the nice-sound­ing libertarian creeds of a “free­dom-loving indiv­idual”, is also a somewhat darker assu­m­ption: that peo­ple are most often rather selfish, and, the reasoning goes, if you try to cre­ate a society in which this truth is not honored, it will backfire seri­ously—be­cause it can ultimately only be built on self-deceit. Instead, the argu­ment goes on, we should build a soc­iety in which people can work for their en­lightened self-interest, which will generally produce more sustain­able rela­tions, more productive behaviors, and a greater abun­dance of goods and ser­vices on the markets (both quality and quan­tity).

As in Adam Smi­th’s classical 1776 notion of “the invi­sible hand”, this arg­­u­ment marries a belief in freedom to a meas­ure of con­servatism; a sober and real­istic look at peo­ple’s moral qualities and real behaviors. It’s true that Smith warned about the corrosive effects of repetitive factory work, but his analysis stopped there. If we let people work self­ishly under controlled cir­cum­stances (policing, rule of law, private property, consu­mer rights, etc.), then they will, on average and over time, do some­thing that is coll­ect­ively good.

Hmm, okay boomer. There may be some truth to these received wisdoms of our day and age. But upon closer inspection, such an appeal to “human nature” and her inn­ate individuality is of course a rom­antic reciting of beliefs rather than a behavioral-scientific explanation. They just make vague assum­p­tions about “human nature” and engineer morally weighted conclusions from there. This mainstream account of why communism failed has pretty weak explanatory power.

But aren’t there yet more general and structural causes for the spect­a­cular failures of communism? I’m glad you asked, because indeed there are.

“The non-moralistic point is important here […] sustainable, fair and dynamic societies are not created by the purity of your soul and its habits of self-flattery.”

A Jammed Information Feedback System

If we’d like to take it one step farther towards a more solid critique, we can look at the issue from the perspective of society’s information pro­cessing.

From this perspective, we can see that economic central planning is often a bad idea. The demand for goods and services is extremely difficult to predict on a large scale, so it is more intelligent to let many different agents make all the small decis­ions, “as if their busin­esses depended upon it”, rather than letting the gov­ernment make a five-year plan and be done with it. Simply because these many agents, working with varying time­frames and perspectives, can pro­cess much more infor­mation, they can make more calibrated, sustain­able and inno­­vative decisions.

Once you have committed to a five-year plan, there is bound to be any number of errors: shortages and unwanted surpluses. People will have enor­mous incen­tives to trade with one another, to remedy the short­ages and do away with the surpluses—hence de facto reopening a free market, a rather innocent version of the “black market”. But for the socialist plan­ning to work, large parts of such free trade need to be illegal.

If there are such strong incentives for doing something that is illegal, the legal system must be stretched out to deal with a lot of people and sit­uations. And for a legal system to realistically do that, it has to perform a lot of quick trials (or go after the “kulak” farmers who insist on producing their own goods). Hence the quality of the rule of law decreases, hence people stop respecting the system altogether, hence corruption becomes ramp­ant—in exactly the kind of system that depends upon the goodwill, mutual trust and soli­darity among citizens.

I am simplifying to a semi-violent extent, but please bear with me; we are looking at some of the basic principles.

And from there on, the legal system spirals out of control and begins punishing people very severely and rather arbit­rarily, and from there on the incentives for everyone are to be very careful and suspicious and to collect as much political power as possible. And the way to do that is by spying on others, and informing, so that you have more information, more juicy thr­eats to make, and more favors to call. All of these things become more impor­tant for your survival (and prosperity) than being an efficient office clerk or entre­preneur. Gain power, don’t rock the boat.

And from there on, the incentive of the political leadership becomes to hide some of the bad stuff that’s going on, because you need the legiti­macy of the system in order to legitimize your power, your power being the only protection from being swallowed as the revolution begins to eat its own children in a spying-reporting slugfest. So you need to control the press and other media, which means people get even less reliable inform­ation to make decisions and regulate their behaviors correctly—which messes up decision making even more, across the board. And people thus fail to coordinate their actions at a large scale and over longer stretches of time, which means more shortages and errors; which means more incen­tives for corrup­tion.

And in order to defend the false positive image conjured up by the con­trolled media that people no longer trust, you have to make parades and celebrations and fake display villages—lots of them—so that people will bel­ieve that things are alright and keep up the enthusiasm. And peo­ple will need to show up and be enthused at such occasions in order not to seem suspect, which in turn makes them start to genuinely insist they live in a fantastic society since the least convinced ones will be view­ed as most suspect. It is a kind of Stockholm syndrome, by which hostages begin to love and admire their captors.

This is classical cognitive dissonance: People will genuinely believe things are awesome because it’s too dangerous not to. And this again mess­es up any hope of self-corrective feedback cycles. As the hist­orian Anne Apple­baum and many other for­eign travelers in the Soviet Union noted, Sov­iet citizens would often—ami­dst obvious drud­ge­ries—empha­tically insist that theirs was a superb soc­iety. Gulag survivor Solzhenitsyn descr­ibed in his books how people would come to the labor camps and insist upon keeping their beliefs in the benevolence of the Soviet Union, even as they were being beaten, starved and degraded.

The social dyn­amics of religious cults come to mind here. It is as though the comm­unist pro­ject, by its inherent dynamics, drew people into a nation­wide cult: a dyn­amic followed even down to gory details like “cult of per­sonality” and the cult-like, or at least extremely sectarian, organi­zation of Trot­skyist org­anizations arou­nd the world.

And indeed, what would a society run by, let’s say, the Scientologists look like? We may have an example in present-day North Korea; a surviv­ing spawn of the Soviet Union. The similarities between Scientology and North Korea are strik­ing, even down to the level of com­portments and de­mean­ors displayed by those who harass deviants from the dogma.

However, once the spell is broken and society collapses, traumas surface and abound. Today’s happ­iness research lays its verdict: Post-communist soc­ieties are the least hap­py (relative to their levels of econo­mic pros­perity), and the longer a coun­try stayed under communist rule, the less happy the pop­ula­tion.

Other measures also suffer a special “communist penalty”: lower inter­personal trust, loneliness, cor­r­­uption and poor public health lingering on for dec­ades. In terms of cultural and political prog­ressivity, these soc­ieties also relapse dra­m­at­ically: Poland turns to tradition and Catholicism, East Ger­many gene­rates more than its fair share of neo-nazis, Russia becomes chauv­inist (and born-again Orthodox) and forgets its former communist cosmo­politanism and dreamy gaze at space colonization, China’s new open­ness is only skin deep, still being pro­foundly author­itarian and nation­alist—and North Korea becomes a down­right patriarch­al, racist caste syst­em on sur­veill­ance steroids, literally worse than any­thing George Or­well could have dreamt up.

Phew. Where were we? So communism is bad, which has to do with a vicious spiral that grows from an inefficient way of organizing the mar­ket, a case of jammed real-time information processing—rather than any rom­antic notion of a violated “human freedom” or vague general spe­c­ul­ations about the nature of humanity. The violations of human rights flow from this jamming of the information system, from a chronic failure to successfully coor­dinate human behavior in the millions.

The non-moralistic point is important here—and obvious, in a way. We all have a tendency of casting our beliefs about humanity and society in moral terms. And we tend to flatter ourselves: If only people “realize” that our own beliefs are the correct ones, if they could only bring them­selves to see the true beauty of what we see, then life would be so much better. But sustainable, fair and dynamic societies are not created by the purity of your soul and its habits of self-flattery. Good societies are created by a) corr­ect analysis, b) smooth inform­ation pro­cessing for the coordina­tion of human agency, c) the dynamic bal­an­­cing of differ­ent powers—and d) the dialectical conflict and mutual interdepen­dence bet­ween diff­erent political interests and ideas.

These features of a good society can be brought about more or less deli­berately; they emer­­­ge either as the result of planned act­ions, or throu­gh blind processes that occur beyond our understandings (but for which we often like to snatch the credit)—and most often as a strange dance be­tween these two: the deliberate and the stumbled-upon.

There was really nothing morally “lower” about the communist experi­ment, compared to the ideas of the American Revolution, (or the French Revolution for that matter). If you look at the “foun­ding fathers”, Thomas Jefferson kept slaves, even got one of them pre­g­nant, and Benjamin Frank­lin fabricated juicy lies about British atro­ci­ties—writing in the pa­pers under several false names and claiming to have witnessed colorful barb­aric acts committed by Indians, pur­portedly orchestrated by the British, in effect relying on racism. Most of the Declar­ation of Indep­endence is not about human rights and equality, but is raging against the cri­mes of the British “tyrant”. After all, this was the writing of fiery revo­lu­tionaries, not human rights activists.

These guys weren’t necess­arily any “nicer” than Lenin and Trotsky; and certainly not nicer than people like Emma Gold­man or Rosa Luxemburg. They just happened to be on the beat with some ideas and societal devel­op­ments that turned out to be highly competitive, hence leading to relati­vely sus­tainable societal structures. The American ideas of 1776 were sim­ply better aligned with the long-term attractors than the Russian ones in 1917.

“the meta-ideology of modernity turned out to be not communism […] not fas­cism, not the night watchman liber­tarian mini­malist state, not anar­chist communes, not even social demo­cracy (nice try, thou­gh)—but Green Social Liberalism.

Marx Had the Wrong Meta-Ideology

Both vers­ions of modern­ity, capitalism and communism, brought great good and great evil. Communism enriches and modernizes society, and it kills lots of people. So does capitalism. But one version still turned out to be preferable to the other and thus won out: capitalism allied with a multi-party system.

A lot of the weaknesses of the purportedly Marxian societies can be ex­plained by the fact that there weren’t several parties (with minor excep­tions, such as the con­tem­porary Chinese tolerance of small oppos­ition parties). This is a major diff­er­ence to liberal democracy. Even in dis­orderly and corrupt Italy, one gov­ernment can always be exchanged for another. This guarantees rudimentary acc­ount­ability.

So why were the comm­unist societies one-party systems? Bec­ause the Marxists believed only they embodied the meta-ideology; that they embod­ied the actual, deep structures of how societies evolve and operate. As such you can legitimize the self-organization of society as a whole: The meta-ideo­logy is not any one position within soc­iety, but it con­stitutes over­arching ideas about the fabric of society itself. So Marxism does not compete with liberalism, but with liberal parliamentary demo­cracy itself. It is not just an ideology, but an attempt at a meta-ideology—like liberal democracy. If communism reaches a certain level of influence, it thus wipes out all competing parties.

If Marxism is a meta-ideology, it makes sense to organize society as a whole within the frame­work of what is anal­ytically true either way to the comm­unist mind. As such, communism was prone to be built on top of formerly autocratic, pre-democratic societies, where it could simply super­sede the earlier form of governance, inheriting the strong state institutions that were not balanced by a strong parliament and division of powers.

But this is not unique to communism. When the Am­er­ican Revol­ution took hold, the elites of the early days also worked to keep a one-party syst­em. This however broke down during the early 19th cen­tury when the vote was extended to non-elite groups and there was a rise of populist politics under President Andrew Jackson, with an electoral base in the southern states. All meta-ideologies set the frame­work for soc­iety as a whole, for its very definition of what society is.

Stop for a second to consider the words “holistic” and “totalita­rian”. They are, in effect, the same word. When you have a theory about the whole of soc­iety, it makes sense to relate to it in a way that tries to grasp, and change, the whole of it. To relate to the “whole”, we must relate to the “totality”, even try to steer and navigate it. A challenge presents itself: How can we be hol­istic without falling into the traps of 20th century totali­tarianism?

In truth, of course, the meta-ideology of modernity turned out to be not communism but rather what I have called Green Social Liberalism, the attractor point modern societies gravitate towards. Not comm­un­­ism, not fas­cism, not the night watchman liber­tarian mini­malist state, not anar­chist communes, not even social demo­cracy (nice try, thou­gh)—but Green Social Liberalism.

The more modernized a society becomes, the more clearly it manifests Green Social Liberalism, something the Nordic countries have become prime examples of as I have written about in The Listening Society. In countries like Swe­den, all parties in effect start to become one version or another of “green social-liberals”.

Much can be said in the analytical (and moral) defense of Marx, but after all, he did not claim that a huge middle class would grow up through the dynamic inter­relation between private enterprise and public welfare, or that these populations would increasingly adopt individualism and cos­mo­politanism, identity politics (gender, ethn­icity, sexuality, youth sub­cult­ures) and eco­logical awareness as the ecological limitations of soc­iety’s grow­th be­came apparent. That’s just not what he wrote, I’m sorry.

Marx tried to identify the meta-ideology, to formulate it clearly, so that people could create political movements around it or otherwise navigate the world with its help. He made some important contributions, but he got some of the funda­mental dynamics wrong. Analytical—not moral—mis­takes that nevertheless cost many mill­ions of lives. Oops.

But still, the very fact that communism was an attempt at a meta-ideo­logy, and that Marx got some important dynamics right (that capitalism is crisis-prone, for example), gave the organization of “The Communist Par­ty” some nearly tran­­­scen­dental qualities in the eyes of its followers; attrac­ting large parts of the 20th century intell­ectuals, apparent per­haps in Fran­ce especially. The party was seen not only as “a party” with some “opin­ions”, but, not unlike the American creed, a kind of manifest dest­iny, of history’s dial­ectics made flesh. That’s of course also what made it so danger­ously seductive, so blinding.

What we tend to forget, however, is that our current political status quo was created by a similar kind of meta-ideology; that of liberal democracy and the Enlightenment. Its structures were brought about by abrupt turns, and the carefully engineered ideas of leading thinkers were instituted under political struggles for mono­polies of violence (like Mont­esquieu, but there were of course many others). A jerky ride of revolution, counter-revolution, conservation and reformation produced the current meta-ideology and its supremacy.

Why then am I saying all this? I want to draw your attention to the fact that communism failed to change the games of everyday life, but other meta-ideologies have been successful in doing so, and future meta-ideologies can do the same.

The conclusion, then, is not to avoid all holistic visions of society, to avoid all meta-ideologies, but to make damn certain you get them right from the beginning.

Again, so if Marx ended up non-linearly killing a hundred million—how many did Mont­es­quieu save? How many instances of torture has he pre­vented? It’s a fair question.

“…the relative failure of the communist experi­ments does not per­manently discredit all attempts to change the games of every­day life, to evolve the dynamics by which we live, love, trade, compete and coop­erate. If anything, the victory of liberal demo­cracy, and its grav­itation towards Green Social Liberalism, shows us that such dev­elopments are in­deed poss­ible.”

Communism Is “Game Denial”

The cen­tral issue of communism’s failure was not that of some eternal, God-given “essence of human­ity” be­ing viol­ated, but something far more mundane: that the games of every­­­­­day life were misunderstood and/or denied.

This led to a serious glitch in the self-organization of society, which—over a period of decades—led to a painful form of social disintegration and resulting opp­ression. Amidst all their atrocities, communist societies were rel­ati­vely functional for a while, but their social sustainability was limited—much more so than lib­eral democracy with capitalism and welfare (the sustain­ability of which is, of course, also limited in time, as all things under the sun). And so they lasted for shorter periods of time.

From this viewpoint, two conclusions become appar­ent. The first one is, again, that the relative failure of the communist experi­ments does not per­manently discredit all attempts to change the games of every­day life, to evolve the dynamics by which we live, love, trade, compete and coop­erate. If anything, the victory of liberal demo­cracy, and its grav­itation towards Green Social Liberalism, shows us that such dev­elopments are in­deed poss­ible.

Rather, the failure of communism serves to underscore that you must make correct assessments of people’s behaviors—in these particu­lar times and places in history—in order to create a sustainable social order. If you make un­realistic assessments about how people function, you set in mo­tion vicious cycles that lead to truly terrible results. But on the other hand, if you fail to understand what attractors lie ahead, you stall hist­orical progress, taking the losing side in history, which in the long run causes even more abrupt chan­ges and catastrophic outcomes—for inst­ance, that we might have global ecological catastrophes.

The second conclusion is that “game change” already has occurred throughout history, and that it is a measure of society’s progress: If, and only if, the games of everyday life become fairer and more forgiving, can “progress” be said to have materialized.

So this leaves us with the under­standing that the rules of the game—in markets, in work life, in governance, in family life, in love and sex and friendship—can and will change and develop. The question is only how, when, and under the auspices of which meta-ideol­ogy.

The basic idea is that the meta-ideology of liberal capitalism is becom­ing less viable in the global­izing information age and that we should look for a new one: My sugg­estion for which is political meta­modernism, a.k.a. the Nordic ideology, leading us towards a listening society and a Green Social Liberalism 2.0—through the method of “co-development”.

The Marxist critique and the failure of communism serve as fruitful starting points for seeing how a metamodern society can evolve from the modern one.

But to be very clear: the Nordic ideology and its metamodern politics is not communism. It’s much smarter than that.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

 

[i]. Trotsky, L., 1925/2005. Literature and Revolution. Chicago: Haymarket Books. p 207.

[ii]. Kołakowski, L., 1976/2008. Main Currents of Marxism: The Founders—The Gold­en Age—The Breakdown. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Game Change, Yes Please

Neither game denial nor game accep­tance is a consciously held perspective. They are, of course, mis­takes we make because of unconscious biases and emotional invest­ments in ideas and identities (“I am a radical anarchist!” invites game denial, etc.). They constitute subtle forms of self-deceit. The mom­ent game denial and game acceptance are recog­nized for what they are it becomes apparent that they cannot be sustained. Every­one will veh­emently deny their own game den­ial or game acc­ept­ance and claim to be a responsible “game changer” if con­front­ed. What then, is game change? It is the productive synthesis of game denial and game acceptance: you accept that life is a game and you re­solve to work to change it. It’s quite obvious when you think about it. Let’s take a closer look.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications.

Life is unfair because relations between sentient beings are layered in games for scarce resources. Through resources (of whatever form) we can reach for the sublime and approach our fundamental, unknowable God-nature: Through gain­ing access to food and favorable mates we escape the ever-present clutch­es of death and reach for immort­ality through repro­duction. In human beings socialized within complex tribes or societies, death is defied by the exte­nsion of the idea of ego—my name, my recogni­tion, my ideas, my deeds, my sacrifice, my devotion, my child­ren, my ances­tors, my style, my monument, my love, my passion. These are all, in their own ways, scarce re­sources, that are distributed, accessed and enjo­yed through the playing of games.

The students of the psychology of death—a fascinating and promising field of empirical research that builds upon the heritage of Ernest Becker’s Denial of Death—have produced plenty of exp­er­imental evi­dence to show we become more eager players of games when confronted with our own mortality. Humans have a strong unconscious drive to cheat death. When reminded of death, even in a sub­tle manner, we latch on to our iden­tities, our wealth and our world­views more eagerly—and we judge one another more harshly. True story.[i] The intrinsic and inescapable fear of death distorts our cognition and turns us into game deniers or game accep­ters.

The bad news is that life is unfair. The good news is that life is a game and that its rules can change. These are two sides of the same coin. The question is not “game, or no game”, but the nature of our relationship to the game and the evolution of its rules.

Games produce dynamics of interaction. They give life in samsara a temporal, fleeting mea­ning: maybe we can be winners, or at least avoid being losers, or at least hide we “really are” losers. They give an exper­ience of sub­stance to the funda­mental, pristine, empty meaning­less­ness of phe­no­me­nal real­ity. They produce a story, a drama, where stakes exist, moves are made, vict­ories won, losses cut and bitterly remem­bered. Games pro­duce results. They produce losers and winners. Just like you and me. We all know both sides, in different contexts, to different extents.

The major objective of the metamodern political project is to change the rules of the game. Our simple message is that everyday life as we know it can and must evolve. The game change position holds:

  • Life is a plus-sum game with possible win-wins.
  • Life is also often a zero-sum game with lose-win.
  • Life is sometimes even a tragic dilemma of lose-lose.
  • But the rules of the game can change, evolving into more win-win, less lose-win and less lose-lose.
  • Nobody actually ever “deserves” to lose games and suffer defeat or hum­iliation. Seriously—would you tell a kid that she “deserves” to be crappy at school? To be ugly and lonely or poor? To starve? To have low self-esteem? To have a fragmented, anxious mind? To be part of the losing side of globalization? That baby turkeys in industrial butcheries get what they deser­ve?
  • All injustices in the world are caused by the playing of games.
  • Humans and other beings have no choice but to partake in games.
  • In the last instance, no injustice or suffering is ever excusable or tolerable.
  • It is our ethical imperative, without compromise, to change the rules of the game.
  • Successful changing of the game is that which:
    • produces more winners in life,
    • produces fewer losers,
    • softens the fall of the losers,
    • increases the rewards of the winners, and
    • makes people act kindlier and more fairly while playing the game.

The point is that winning in life is never enough. What if you become that successful? What if you get those hot young men? What if you save that many lives? What if you really save the world from climate crisis?

Then you’ll still have a kid, or somebody else you care about, who is crushed and humiliated by the same game you played and happened to win. The game is still on. Still grinding. For every winner, there is a loser. You were that awesome idealistic writer who pointed out injustice? You were a hero? The very fact of your moral victory means that you just tra­shed, hum­iliated and outcompeted somebody else. That somebody else could have been you. It could have been your own child.

And more fundamentally—it is you. Winning in life is fun. But it’s just not enough. Classical liberalism, neo-liberalism, conservatism, capitalism and fascism are all based upon accepting the game and an attitude of “may the best player win”. They are all defen­ders and upholders of in­justice, cruelty and suffering that just can­not be ethically justified.

So what if I win? In a deeper sense, you have still lost. You must change the games of life. That is the only result that counts. That is the only vic­tory worth keeping, because it includes everybody.

The game of life will still produce losers and winners, but the results will be deter­mined through much less bloodshed and losing will come at a much lower cost. This will be a society in which people get more than one shot at glory.

Don’t hate the player, and don’t hate the game either. We need to love the game, learn to play it—and change it, because we love the play­ers.

Multi-Dimensional Game Change

Game change means to admit the game, even to play it lovingly, but seek­ing to change the way it works. Games have dynamics and these dynamics can work in directions towards grosser or more refined games.

All games have evolved from something else. When modern Western people compete for spouses we usually don’t even reach the point of ver­bal confrontation. Lions fight and kill each other’s cubs.

Our game is more refined, and its rules harder to learn. But obviously, games for sex, identity and partners have evolved. Just a few hundred years ago, intrigue in Europe would habitually involve physical violence and duels to the death. Now­adays it rarely does.

Game change is a develop­mental affair. It has to do with making ad­van­ces into higher stages of societal development.

So, to sum this up, on the next page is a simple model of a holistic game change—presented as five-step process:

Game-Change

Can you see how the inner development of people is inter­linked with the development of society as a whole? That society’s function funda­men­tally relies upon the personal development of its citi­zens?

You can’t just develop society by means of “imposing” a certain politi­cal system or changing people’s values. Game change occurs by means of systemic change, psychological dev­elop­ment of the populations, changes in habits and behaviors, and thr­ough cultural development. These fields—system, psychology, behavior and cul­ture—develop together, as described in Appendix B of Nordic Ideology.

Of course, many other inter­actions than the ones presented in this feedback loop are possible, but it gives us an idea of what it really means for society and humanity to develop.

Don’t you ever dare tell me that dramatic and positive change is not possible. If you can’t change people’s behaviors, you might change some­thing in the systemic incentives. If that isn’t possible, you can always bring up new issues and find ways to change the cultural discourse. If that fails, you can always find a few people and help them develop their values so that they can form a new com­petitive social structure.

There is always a “chink in the armor”. Somewhere there is always at least some leeway in any apparent grid-lock of society, which in turn opens up new possible developments somewhere else. There is always a promise of further develop­ment.

We are looking to create new contexts, new historical situations where what was impossible before now becomes possible. This is, needless to say, a dynamic process in which we need to let the different forms of devel­opment support each other. We’ll squeeze in develop­mental leaps where people didn’t think they were possible—so that we can make possible the transition to a metamodern society; one that is fit for the global, digital age.

For ardent readers: If you want to see how game change relates to some classical political philos­ophers, consult this footnote: [ii].

Many Levers

Thus: Let go of game denial and game acceptance—and go for game chan­ge.

There are different levels of game change, some more fundamental than oth­ers, but all are necessary. There are many different “levers” to pull. Here are some general suggestions to get us started:

  • Studying the rules of the game and teaching them to as many actors as possible (Sun Tzu’s Art of War, Machiavelli’s The Prince, Neil Strauss’ The Game). This actually makes the game fairer because it works against game denial and towards a more even distribution of knowing the game. But emphasizing this side alone can land us in the cynicism of game acceptance.
  • Change the game settings by changing the supply of resources. In richer societies where resources are more equally distributed, the games of everyday life are generally less cruel since people have more of what they need and thus feel less tempted to take advantage of others.
  • Change the game framing by changing ethical discourses. What is considered acceptable or not in order to get ahead in the daily games of life can be altered by making new ethical guidelines more prevalent; and if everyone tends to follow the same rules, people will be more inclined towards “playing nice”. Even who is to be considered a “loser” can be changed, for instance by making it ok to be poor or uneducated.
  • Evolve the game by increasing cognitive capacity for social perspective taking (higher cognitive stage and value meme, as described in The Listening Society). This makes the whole game fairer, where people at higher cognitive stages accept John Rawls’ “veil of ignorance” (not knowing who in society you will be). Yet higher levels of complexity breed even more refined games, like accepting sol­idarity with all sentient beings and mak­ing room for different kinds of con­sciousness in the public.
  • Gathering stronger and wider monopolies of violence (states can uphold rule of law, but the lack of global polity or transnational govern­ance sets limits for how far solidarity through rule of law can reach). A big and strong monopoly of violence stuck in a crude game can of course cause a lot of relative suffering (Fascist states caused more suff­er­ing than rep­resentative republican, capitalist, meat-eating soc­ieties, even if they ma­naged to gather considerable monopolies of violence). But a strong state simply makes it more likely that interpersonal mis­deeds are penalized, that people’s lives and property are protected, and hence that losing in the games of everyday life doesn’t entail death or absolute poverty.
  • And last but not least, changing the lived relationship to life and death through increasing contemplative insight, hence changing the needs and wants that the games are played for. This changes what goods are ultimately seen as most real, most substantial. Goods that are deeper, more immaterial, are easier to distribute more fairly (insight and bliss, vs. food and oil, etc.). This affects the economy of roles to be attained for enactment of imagined immortality. In an “eco­nomy of happiness” whe­re power over others is the ultimate fan­tasy, people will have to play for roles like “supervisor” or “great dict­ator” or even “conqueror” and these roles will be the most desired, result­­ing in very dire games where only few can win and only through great cruelty. In a richer “economy of happiness”, people may play for roles such as “the wise person”, “the saint” or “the trustworthy friend”. That will still produce losers and win­ners, but the results will be determined through much less bloodshed and losing will come at much lower costs, with more than one shot at glory.

I urge the reader to look at these suggestions and to compare them with our current political reality—which levers for changing the game are we currently using? Even critical social science seems to take the game too much for granted, seeing too few levers for changing the game.

If we stay on our current track, we will miss valuable opportunities for changing the game, for changing the logics through which our social inter­actions function.

Evolving Markets, Polities and Civil Spheres

A concluding comment. In The Listening Society, I argued that neither the market, nor the state bureaucracy, nor the civil sphere (including our associations, clubs, media and personal rela­tion­ships) can be seen as inherently “ratio­n­al”, “free” or “humane”. Rather, each sphere can be more or less intelli­gent and display varying degrees of coll­e­­c­t­ive intelligence.

They develop togeth­er and depend upon each other for their proper functioning. In this view, it makes less sense to be a class­ical libertarian, socialist, conservative or anarchist be­cause each of these pos­itions is inhe­r­ently biased towards and against mar­ket, state and civil sphere solutions. They each have “pol­itical aller­gies” and infatuations that limit their pers­pective upon all things pol­itical. In this sense, it is nec­essary to go “beyond Left and Right”, letting go of irrational allergies and infa­t­u­a­tions.

There are different analytical “fractal triads” that are be­coming increa­singly intermeshed and re-integrated in the digital, post­industrial eco­n­omy that relies more upon sustainability, creativity and inno­vation.

 

These fractal triads are:

  1. The systems:
    1. the market,
    2. the state,
    3. the civil sphere.
  2. The spheres of life:
    1. the professional,
    2. the civic (citizen and public engagement),
    3. the personal.
  1. The political base-suppositions:
    1. solidarity,
    2. competition,
    3. trade.
  2. The basic political values:
    1. order,
    2. equality,
    3. freedom.[iii]

Each of these triads develop as triadic fractal systems; their constituent parts develop to­gether or regress together—even if there may be times when one aspect can and should be emphasized over the other two. The triads can be intelligently weaved to­gether, or their parts work against one another and cause mutual harm. And, more fund­amentally, the parts dep­end upon another in their logical structure. Fractals.

The game deniers tend to dislike and deny the aspects of competition and trade that are in fact logically necessary parts of life and society. The game accepters tend to deride and underestimate the very real aspects of solid­arity, moral concern and love, trying to explain these by red­ucing them to the “underlying hard facts” of political real­ism and crude econo­mic inter­ests. They think that competition is the most real.

The game change position avoids such biases against markets, states and the civil sphere, or against solidarity, competition and trade. Rather, the idea is to work for game change across all of these: to see how they interact, how they strengthen and/or impede one another.

The idea is not to eradicate competition from life, but to trans­form and refine the nature of competition in all aspects of life: on the labor market, in work culture, in the political deliberations and elections, in the games of love, sex and family, in peer groups and in research and education.

So again—don’t hate the player.

And don’t hate the game, either.

We need to love the game, learn to play it.

And change its rules.

Because we love the players.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

[i]. Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T., 2015. The Worm at The Core. On the Role of Death in Life. London: Penguin Press.

[ii]. The 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes famously assumed that the system is good and the individual is bad—roughly speaking—because he saw the effects of institutional decay during the English Civil War, which broke out in 1642. In 1651 Hobbes published Leviathan, his magnum opus, which became a cornerstone of political conservatism. When Hobbes wrote of the “state of nat­ure” (when there is no sovereign or law, no ruler or polity) and claimed it was a brutish place where the strong exploit the weak and “there can be no industry”, he was in fact over­gene­ralizing a kind of dev­elop­mental imbalance which he had failed to notice. It is true, that if you have ten million people gath­ered, and you then remove the state—carnage will ensue. In other words, if you remove the system that had hitherto made a certain stage of societal dev­elopment possible, you get chaos and conflict. Hobbes was a proto-conserv­ative (writing before “modern” conservatism fully emerged), and he arrived at this pos­ition by failing to see the four fields (Appendix B) and their inter­dependent and dev­elopmental nature. He didn’t see the whole picture: he thought that institutions are good and institutionless people are bad.

When the conservative philosopher Edmund Burke in the early 19th century wrote his critical com­mentary on the French Revolution he was noticing a related but distinct aspect: that you cannot just force a system into being without the corresponding psychology and culture within the population, lest you will experience a huge backlash. But Burke, too, over­generalized. He was noticing another developmental imbalance and took it as uni­ver­­sally applicable. But in reality, dramatic shifts of systems have been made successfully throughout history. It’s just that some are sustain­able because they match the development in the three other fields, while some aren’t. The political systems that aren’t based within all four fields simply lead to severe pathologies: planned economy without a socialist (post­modern) population will lead to breadlines and oppression, an industrialized society with a modern bureaucracy governed by faustian principles of dominance and war will lead to nazism.

And the radical Rousseau mused in the 18th century, that humanity was corrup­ted by the institutions and that a free and fair life was possible (as did the utopian socialists and anarchists that followed him). He, too, got the handle of yet another developmental imbalance: when peo­ple’s psych­ologies develop ahead of the culture and systems in which they live—i.e. when they grasp for greater universality than what is supp­orted or expect­ed by their current society. This is where you find the “righteous rebel”, the post-con­ventional ethics of sensitive citizens, beautiful souls and daring minds who experience severe alienation in the society they are part of: so barbaric, so insensitive. But he too was “true, but partial”. What Rousseau des­cribed was, again, a developmental im­bal­ance. He too over­generalized his own experience: thinking that all people were “by nature” as his own moral-philoso­phical intuition indicated.

This is the source of Rousseau’s ressentiment, the French word for “resentment” as employed in psychology and philosophy. Rousseau and his game denying left-wing descendants are stuck with a bitter non-acceptance of reality, with a perpetual denial. They don’t recognize their critique is only an expression of a develop­mental imbalance. It is a kind of violence against reality itself; but reality always fights back with full force and the denier is always defeated—by logical necessity.

Stop Game Acceptance

Readers of a conservative bent have probably felt a streak of satis­faction reading my former post on game denial, while the radicals and liberals have cringed and condemned me.  So be it. If game denial was the only part of the story, conserva­tives would sim­ply be right. Deep down they’ve always known, or so they think, that drea­my idealism isn’t quite “real”; that all those liberals are, in a sub­tle but pervasive sense, brimming with mendacities, filled with pomp­ous self-deceit. There’s a real world out there, a practical world of real peo­ple, and real limitations.

Ahh. “Like ‘me’, the no-bullshit conservative. The good person is not who­ever can dream up the nicest fantasy and have us drive off a cliff in search of it, but rather those who can look at the real world, be strong eno­ugh to face it—and from there on, try to do what’s best and most real­istic given the circumstances.” The conservative mind seeks a darker, but soberer, point of depar­ture: What to do with violent criminals? How should free-riding, cheating and loafing be discouraged? How do we get people to come out of their com­fort zones and make sincere efforts for the good of themselves and others?

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications.

So what are the “hard truths” that we must all relate to? Here’s a per­spective from a “pickup artist”, i.e. a man who has be­come a pro­fessional at seducing women:

“There is a pride in being a pickup artist. It is a challenge. I have performer friends who can explode on stage like samurai and kill five hundred people, but they are afraid to approach a girl in a bar. I don’t blame them. Most audiences are horny to be fucked. They want it hard and deep. But the girl sitting on the bar stool is more difficult. She is scarier. She is the five hun­dred pound gorilla in a little black dress. And she can bust you up, if you let her. But she is also horny to be fucked. We are all horny to be fucked.”[i]

“Juggler”, as is the nom de guerre of this fellow, tries to “tell it like it is”. He tries to face up to the inherent challenges of life, ones that cannot be bru­shed aside with idealistic visions and wishful thinking. In short: he acc­epts the game of life (in this case seduction) and tries to take its con­sequen­ces.

But it doesn’t sound very nice, which is probably why Juggler is part of a secret society in the first place, where knowledge about the games of seduction is spread and refined. Speaking one’s perceived hard truths often makes you sound like a douchebag.

This puts the con­ser­vative at a constant rhetorical disadvantage; you gen­erally tend to sound less nice. Which is quite annoying—a tired and irr­itated look on the con­servative’s face unmistakably presents itself when lib­erals and rad­icals go on, performing their moral braggadocio and “vir­tue signaling” in the med­ia or at any given dinner party.

Conservatives generally talk less. They tell themselves they are prac­­tical, down-to-earth, realistic—doers rath­er than talkers. And in more or less refined manners, they resent the game deni­ers, these cheap fakes who take every opportunity to shout out their opinions and to shine their own poli­tically correct medals; liberals who choose moral bombasticity over sober analysis.

This “conserv­ative silence” is suppor­ted by res­ear­ch, which clearly shows that the farther left you are, the more you tend to voice your opin­ions in everyday life. If you’re rooting for the nationalist party, you talk the least about it. One such study was undertaken in Sweden by the poll­ing com­pany Dem­o­­skop: When asking over 4000 people, 56% of self-reported soc­ialists were com­fortable with voicing their opin­ions to stran­gers, while the same figure for nationalists was 27%—the other ideol­o­gies neatly arran­ged in order of left-wingness.[ii] Similar figures have been found in the US, as shown by a recent Cato Institute report.[iii] Ours is a world of lib­eral loud­mouths and tight conservative lips (and quiet support of pop­ulist and con­servative leaders).

And since nationalism and Trumpism are the least kosher and most difficult to publicly def­end, people even hide supporting them when asked in polls (which, by the way, is likely a major reason that polling has begun to be less accurate lately). When they do support the Trumps of the world, they often add in small exc­uses, justifications, hedgings, accounts and dis­claim­ers: “Well, I don’t like Trump, I just thought we should shake things up a bit” and so forth.[iv]

When rhetorical tal­ents who understand the metamodern games of the media landscape—like the young, posh Brit Milo Yiannopoulos and per­haps, to some extent, Donald Trump himself—finally manage to break thr­ough and say the things that conservatives wish they could express, the response is huge. A sigh of relief echoes through many as what might loo­s­ely be termed the “Alt-Right” gains momentum. Even if Yianno­poulos and Trump may embody exagge­rations of conservative sentim­ents, at least they rain some sweet venge­ance upon the often so suffocating polit­ically correct establishment, the smoth­ering welfare state and per­ceived status quo. A mellow sen­se of satis­faction arises in the conservative tummy.

Don’t Hate the Player

But I have argued elsewhere that reality consists of more than “actuality”; that a deeper and fuller reality lies in the realm of what is possible. And the conserv­atives have a strong tendency to­wards accepting the games of life in their current, actual form in a way that disregards the very real pot­en­tials for alternatives and change.

I have said that crimes against reality are crimes against humanity. But crimes against potentiality are also crimes against humanity, and aga­in­st all life on our planet—against all beautiful futures. Game accep­tance also kills. In fact, these killing grounds are far greater and more brutal than the ones of game denial.

Game acceptance means to prostrate before the game and take it as a law of nature in its current form, denying that the game can and must evolve. Or, more often, the game accepter holds that real and substantial changes are only ever poss­ible in a distant and irrelevant future.

This makes us justify illegitimate force and injustice. It makes us think the un­fair sides of the game are somehow indeed fair, because some­one, some­­where “deserved it”. And that injustice is all for the best in the long run because it serves the game. Game accept­ance is the tune of pol­itical real­ism, “political theology” (Jean Bodin, Thomas Hobbes, Vilfredo Par­eto, Niccolò Machiavelli…), neo-liberalism, conservatism. The game acc­epter quietly mumbles:

“It has to be this way! It’s how the world works. We have to let them starve, get screwed over, get stuck and crushed in systems that are not for them. If we only let the system play out and the game be played the way it is, it will turn out for the best for everyone. Besides, I can’t help I won. Don’t hate the player, hate the game!”

But game acceptance really loves the game and hates the player—corr­ection—hates the player who happens to get the short end of the stick.

The billions of enslaved, tortured and murdered animals under global industrial farming find no heroic defenders among the game accepters. The unjust international order which keeps the global South exploited and subjugated is defended under the auspices of “free markets”. The losers of everyday life—the unintelligent, the ugly, the sickly—they all deserve what they get.

The central principle of game acceptance is hence: That which could be is not, and hence it should not be. As David Hume warn­ed us already in the 18th century, this is a fallacy—deriving an “ought” from an “is”. That some­thing is the case doesn’t mean is should be the case.

At its most extreme, game acceptance goes beyond the existing games of life to invent fictitious ones so that we may revel in what “necessary evils” these games demand of us: “Western culture is trying to destroy the Arab world and undermine all of Islam. Ergo we must stop them by ram­ming airplanes into buildings full of innocent folks!”—or “The Jews are plotting to destroy Germany! I don’t like it any more than you, but we must kill them! It’s either them or us. Race against race!”—or “Species against spe­cies! Hum­ans must kill and torture billions of piglets, lest we all starve! It’s the terrible game of life. Alas!”—or “Men must be superior to women and make more money and be more respect­ed in public life, or else—the im­pending collapse of civilization!”—or “We must have a schooling system which more or less systematically perman­ently breaks the souls of the less gifted and less privileged and lets them know their lowly place in society! And we need to beat the kids! I wish it weren’t so.”

But now that it is so, mumbles a voice at the outer fringe of your con­scious mind, you might as well enjoy subjugating the weak and feel exalted with every proof of your own power.

And just as there is an embodied form of game denial, so there is an embodied form of game acceptance. Especially those of us who have had high social status during our upbringing and reflexively assume we can win out in any confrontation that shows up can be tempted to think all such confrontations are necessarily good and just. Losers get what they deserve; that’s not just an idea, but a felt bodily experience that sets our mind up for game acceptance.

Exaggerated forms of game acceptance lead to the most brutal forms of social organization. If you look at Nazi Germany, it killed less people than the communist experiment, numerically speaking. But if you look at the relatively small spread of fascism and its shorter period of existence, you notice the killing rate was much higher and the brutality much more an end in itself. Game acceptance, at its most ext­reme, murders a lot more people than does game denial.

But it doesn’t stop there. The worst crime of game acceptance is that it blocks legitimate, necessary and very possible change. If you look at the thousands of very preventable maladies that have been perpetuated by game accept­ance throughout history, you see a silent, invisible death toll looming larger than any other crime in world history.

Of course we could end slavery. Of course we can end animal slavery. Of course the rich world can and should support sust­ainable global growth with a significant percentage of its GDP. Of course the trade system should be fairer. Of course most wars were avoidable. Of course everyone can have free basic health care. Of course we can live less waste­fully and still be healthier, happier and have mean­ingful lives.

Crimes against potentiality are crimes against humanity.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

[i]. From Neil Strauss’ The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, 2005: chapter 2.

By the way—I don’t mean to equate conservatives with pickup artists or vice versa. I am just looking for the general “let’s keep it real” sentiment, which they both share.

[ii]. Santesson, P. “Vem vågar prata?” [“Who dares to speak?”], Demoskop, September 14th 2015.

[iii]. Ekins, E. “The State of Free Speech and Tolerance in America”. Cato Institute Survey Reports, October 31st 2017.

[iv]. These concepts, excuses, justifications, hedgings and accounts are discussed in social-psychological research and the discipline called “eth­no­meth­odology”.

See Scott, M. B., Lyman, S. M., 1968: Accounts. American Sociological Review, Vol. 33, No. 1: 46-62.

See also: Buttny, R., 1993. Social Accountability in Communication. London: Sage.

Stop Game Denial

Life is a game.

Since we inhabit a world of limited resour­ces, our daily lives are full of zero-sum interactions where one party walks away with a prize while ano­ther leaves the table empty-handed; games with winners and losers. If you and I want the same spouse, the game is on. If you and I want the same job, the game is on. If you want to argue against this way of seeing the world, the game is on. There is no denying it, even when you do.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications.

Yet, many of us frequently fall victim to what I call “game denial”: the inability to perceive, or a negligence of, the logical and behavioral rules that regulate human relations. Game denial is when you ignore or “wish away” certain uncomfortable truths regarding human relations and how reality works. Or simply when you deny the realities of life and forcefully impose your own “ought” upon what “is”.

In a subtle sense, your crime is against truth itself. And when the truth has been sacrificed for a few candy bars worth of emotional reward—people start dying as the consequences of your false assumptions begin to manifest. And from there on you are stuck with defending your lala-land from actu­ality, making things even worse.

Game denial is, to this day, ram­pant. And its victims are not nec­essarily dead; it has victims in all walks of life, all scarred by unsust­ainable and un­realistic social relations, expectations and moralistic impo­sitions of “what ought to be” upon what “actually is”. Crimes agai­nst act­uality are crimes against humanity, against all life on our planet.

Since game denial often “sounds nice”, it may be more convenient to def­end in a pub­lic debate (because you can easily take the moral high gro­und), but in actual reality, in a given con­text, it tends to have negative or other­wise unsust­ainable consequences. You pre­tend that the world works by rules which it does not.

Game denial can show up in so many ways because life is always open to interpretation and reinterpretation. And of course, there is not one “set” game in life in which “God” crowns the winners. But the fact that life has ambiguity is a mixed blessing: It means we can make more fav­orable interpretations and save our positive self-images, but it also mea­ns the leeway to deny obvious competitions and conflicting inter­ests is huge. And because there are such strong psychological forces driving us towards game denial, we all partake in it.[i]

It is difficult to overestimate just how powerful these inner pressures are. For instance, if we all of our life have felt oppressed and hurt in soft and sensitive places by norms that dictate how a “beautiful and feminine” wo­man should be, how compelling and satisfying does it not seem to make up a way to disqualify that game altogether, branding it as false, im­moral and ultimately unreal? If we are bad at sports, how good does it not feel to be rid of all anxieties about our physical inferiority by denying that game?

Game denial means to hate the game and try to eradicate it. It can take the form of liberal political correctness or, in its extreme form, crude comm­un­ism. But the game won’t go away. You can’t eradicate it with a “let’s all be friends”. What about me and that other person who wants the same spouse, but only one can get her by winning her heart? Whether or not we have friendly relations with one another, there is a game with a winner and a loser—this is true even in polyamorous relations. It is bound to happ­en everywhere in samsara (as Eastern traditions have named the worldly realm of suffering), all the time.

Recent research has revealed an evolu­tionary struggle even bet­ween the pregnant mother and her fetus—the growing child’s evolu­tion­ary interests are somewhat different from those of the mother (who may increase the chances of spreading her genes by having more children, and hence not be too drained by this particular fetus). No matter how pro­foundly symbiotic and loving a relationship, there is always an inescapable element of strug­gle. A game.

To try to eradicate the game is only a form of individual or collective repression, and it will always produce pathological results—namely opp­ress­ion. Whatever game you want to repress—like capitalism—this can only be done by activating a grosser level of game—like the game for political totalitarian power. Communist states rep­re­ssed the mechanisms of “games for profit” by playing a much crueler game for pol­itical power.

But oppression is not the worst part of game denial. Oppression can be toppled; evil reigns can end. No, the worst part is that denying the exist­ence of the game means that the game cannot be described, taught and learned. The game is hidden away, made taboo. Hence, game denial is in the service of the privileged elite, making the game less fair by serving those who already know the rules and deceiving those who do not. They’ll never know what hit them.

Let’s take some examples of prevalent game denial. This list may insult a lot of readers and offend moral convictions. Brace yourself.

  • Free immigration for all! All immigration is always good for everyone in­volved: the immigrants, the receivers, the left-behind!
    • Game denial: All societies have limits to how much immigration they can manage, and which kinds of immigration; and higher immi­g­ra­tion rates often create fiercer com­petition at the bott­om of soc­iety, hence harming its most pre­cariou­sly situated citi­­zens.
  • A Universal Basic Income that would cover a lower middle-class wage, the sooner the better! It would free all, and a creative explos­ion of solidarity would occur, and we would usher in a golden age of love and inno­vation!
    • Game denial: The labor market is a complex game of power relations and for people to sustainably per­form less-than-rewarding but cru­cial tasks (e.g. cleaning blood off hospital floors), there must be a complex system in place of penalties, hier­archies and rewards. If you wreck this system, wel­come to the Soviet Union. Stal­inism next. Or worse. (Not saying that all such initiatives are game denial, but many are.)
  • The LEFT is good, always and forever! If only the evil powers of greed were stopped, we would have high wages, safe emplo­yments, no unemployment, free immigration, high social bene­­fits!
    • Game denial: Does not compute. If you have high wages, safe employments and high taxes, then bus­iness becomes extremely inefficient, so people can’t really buy anything with their money (hello Sov­iet). If you have free immigration and social ben­efits, the system gets bogged down with costs and fosters resentments in the working loc­als, and you get ethnic violence and the rise of populist anti-immig­ration parties. And if wages are high, the immigrants won’t be able to com­pete to enter the market. The bogged-down economy fosters cli­en­t­elism. Greek eco­nomy next. Or worse.
  • Feminism! If only men were kind and polite and respected wo­men and stopped using “master suppression techni­ques” (as described by the social psychologist Berit Ås) and didn’t greedily enjoy the oppression of women by means of patriarchy, this would make soci­ety fair, women unafraid of sexual assault, work-life satisfying and int­imate relations much more functional.
    • Game denial, again: For this line of reasoning to com­pute, displays of male prestige, status and power must stop being sex­ually and emotionally alluring to women and hen­ce desirable to men. As long as these traits are found desirable (as plenty of experimental research suggests is the case: women genuinely prefer high-status, in some sen­se “dominant”, males), men can only stop usi­ng at least some str­a­t­­e­gies for social self-advan­ce­ment at their own expense. The gam­­es of everyday life are denied.
  • A wave of spirituality and “higher consciousness” will transform the world! In one way, this is very advanced and complex, in another way, very simple: a kind of perennial wisdom, that people wake up to a simple but profound message of love and acceptance!
    • Game denial: This one (or any version of “millenarianism”) is quite com­mon in more spiritually inclined people, but also, by analogy, in soc­ialists and environmentalists. Here and there, many interesting and intense spiritual movements, waves and rebirths have waxed and waned throughout history. Most of them have been fool’s gold, ending up in grievous mistakes and betrayed hopes. Some, such as Christ­ianity and the other world reli­g­­ions, have caught on long-term and led to some lasting moral trans­­forma­tions. But none of them have been unambiguously good, and none have led to any­thing as fantastic as was imagined. This is because the games of life, with winners and losers, are still there to be played, even if people become a little nicer.
  • If people turned away from the materialist competitive worldview of our age, there would be enough for everybody and people would be happy!
    • Game denial.
  • A playful, creative schooling system which emphasizes growth and joy rather than the dull reciting of facts! No discipline needed! Ever!
    • Game denial.
  • If the US just stops being imperialist/interventionist, there will be a peaceful and solidary international order instead!
    • Game denial.
  • Everyone has something unique to contribute in this new economy! There is room for everyone!
    • Game denial.
  • If only people learned about animal suffering, they would support the end of animal slavery!
    • Game denial.
  • Interfaith dialogue will bring an end to religious conflicts!
    • Game denial.
  • No military intervention is ever needed or justified!
    • Game denial.
  • All animals (humans) are created equal!
    • Game denial.
  • The meek shall inherit the earth!
    • If you mean cockroaches, you might be correct. Otherwise, go to “game denial”.

You get the picture. I suppose a lot of this sounds familiar?

It’s not al­ways easy to tell game denial apart from more legitimate forms of ideal­ism. A rule of thumb, however, is that game denial very often arr­ives in the company of her twisted little sister: moralism—being subtly (or not so subtly) jud­g­­m­ental and self-righteous.

The alliance between game denial and moralism works in cunning ways. They help each other staying in the back­gr­ound, so that neither has to come out in the light and get busted in all their obviousness. For inst­ance, in academia and critical social sci­ence, there is a pre­supp­osition of a pro-immigration, leftist econo­mics, rad­ical fem­in­ism, anti-mili­tarism, anti-disciplinary view of educa­tion and a few other taken-for-granted opin­ions.

When you go to the liberal sociological seminars, listening for inst­ance to Judith Butler’s advanced, learn­ed and very initiated talks about femin­ism, all focus is on the spec­ifics of the argument, on the mas­ter­fully craf­ted critical social theory and research. All of this creates a thick smoke­screen concealing any number of game denials. All the left-wing game denial stays in the background and limits the discussion.

There is no focus on, and no leeway to dis­cuss, all this game denial bagg­age (because it would be seen as morally wrong, and who­ever brings it up is seen as impure). The underlying moralism covers up the game den­ial. And the game denial covers up the moralism because the fact that the gam­es of life are hidden away makes the moralism appear as common sense and decency.

I’m not saying that Judith Butler’s feminism will kill a hundred million people. I’m just saying that other kinds of game denial, like communism, did and that game denial is always a harmful or at least dangerous busi­ness.

Not believing in game denial and its ubiquitous presence is in itself a form of game denial. The reason people do all the game denial is often that it is a useful tool for them to win the small struggles in every­day life: for moral worth, for admiration, for power, money, sex and stat­us—or just to avoid shaming and judgment, or to have the solemn pleasure of shaming and judging others.

Iron­ically, it is because people are always in a game that they can win by deny­ing its existence. Of course, there are other reasons, such as lack­ing intelli­gence or relevant perspectives. But the social rewards of game denial are part of it—and they should not be denied. It is as if many of the pro­gressive intellectuals are “bribed” by the social rewards they can attain by taking part in game denial. These are emotional and cognitive bribes that distort thinking processes, discourses and truth seeking.

Real kindness needs to make sense; it needs to compute. If the numbers don’t add up, they simply don’t. Hence, any kindness that does not com­pute is a disguised form of evil.

But it should also be noted that game denial is not only an intellectual form of self-deceit; there is also such a thing as embodied game denial. For those of us who have suffered from low social status during our up­bringing and may be lacking in the psychological trait assertiveness (being able to stand up for oneself, etc.), we may unconsciously be prepar­ing our bodies and minds for the impact of a social defeat. This sets our minds and bodies up for trying to win over reality by being kind or nice, a part deep inside of us keeps folding over and submitting, trying to deny that a competition or confrontation takes place.

The first victim of game denial is the truth. Its next victim is the inno­­cent child who has to suffer the consequences of your lies. Crimes against act­uality are crimes against hum­anity and all life on our planet.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

[i]. People sometimes invent little games to get around game den­ial. Why do we love sports? After all, the outcome of a football game hard­ly makes any difference in concrete reality—if a ball was in a goal net or not, how many times, or if a Ethiopian guy ran a sprint in 0.1 seconds less than an American did. The reason we love these arbitrary sets of rules is that, in this particular setting, no game denial is possible. Games are fun because they curb game denial; and that goes from chess to Ping-Pong. We are even prepared to engage in otherwise “meaningless” activities, only to get rid of the ambiguities of life in general, where anything and everything can always be reinterpreted in a million ways. Did I win the debate? Am I a good person? Is she a better person than me? Am I worthy? Did I succ­eed?

Relative Utopia

In a way, we’re living in our ancestors’ utopia. If they could have wit­nessed our lives today, they probably wouldn’t have believed their eyes: all the food you can eat, a minimum of hard manual labor, the expectation to see all your children reach adult age, and no drunken lords to abuse you—truly a paradise compared to what most of them had to put up with.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications.

“there is little reason to believe the metamodern society we are headed towards won’t be a relative utopia; that what is currently only con­ceivable as a fictional account one day will materialize and acqu­ire osten­sibly utopian properties—relative to what we’re putting up with today and take for self-evident conditions of life.”

We have access to a large number of conveniences that in the past would have been the envy of even kings and nobles: modern healthcare, com­fortable and speedy transportation, and safe, fresh food from all aro­und the world, even during winter.

Few of us would want to switch our pleasant modern lifestyle with that of Louis XIV 300 years ago. After all, not even the extravagant Sun King himself ever flew to the Canary Islands during his winter holiday and sat on a beach without catching malaria while enjoying his favorite show on Netflix. And we would presumably soon tire of court jesters and pheasant dinners in leaky castles anyway.

We have become accustomed to a standard of living so high not even Moses parting the Red Sea would impress us. Why wander to the land of milk and honey when we can cross the seas in comfortable jets to places with much more interesting cuisine? Jesus too would probably have need­ed to up his game if he were to make disciples out of us modern people. Turn­ing water into wine hardly competes with the marvel of a good 3D-printer.

Even in the social realm we have opportunities and privileges un­imag­inable in the past. A medieval farmer would not have believed it if he was told that his descendants would have voting rights, freedom of express­ion, property rights, police protection and the freedom to choose their reli­gion. And a 19th century factory worker would have been dumbstruck by the life-conditions of common folks today: considerably shorter work hours, vaca­tions, pensions, unemployment benefits and an abundance of cheap con­sumer goods that used to be considered luxuries. Lenin’s gran­diose pro­mise of peace, bread and land that made a generation of workers start a revol­ution is so modest and unambitious in comparison to all the things we take for granted today.

There are of course still people who struggle to make ends meet: single unemployed parents, paperless immigrants, people with mental illnesses, substance addicts, and so on. But overall, we must admit we have come very far. We may not live in a true utopia, but in comparison to the past, modern society is at least a relative utopia; truly utopian relative to what used to be.

But the word “utopia” actually means “no­where”. It goes back to the proto-modern thinker Thomas More’s book Utopia from 1516. In this mean­ing of the word, we do actually live in yesterday’s Nowhereland, in a fairytale, a tech­no­logical Shan­gri-La that in the past only could have exis­ted as fiction. Yet, as things went on, the fictional became all the more fac­tual.

As such, there is little reason to believe the metamodern society we are headed towards won’t be a relative utopia; that what is currently only con­ceivable as a fictional account one day will materialize and acqu­ire osten­sibly utopian properties—relative to what we’re putting up with today and take for self-evident conditions of life.

“modernity, with all its technological and social advances, has pract­ically solved all of the problems of all earlier societies: famine, disease, opp­re­ssion, war, poverty, lack of education, slow and dangerous trans­port­ation, superstition.”

The “Both-And” of Development

Even if the argument can be made that tradit­ional society was “better” than the modern one (as so-called “integral trad­itionalists” like Frithjof Schuon and Réné Guénon have argued: less poll­ution, more spirituality, a more enchanted sense of the world, less dest­ructive weapons, less mind­less con­sumerism and alienation, more in­dep­endence in having the skills to pro­duce what you need, more humility, etc.); this should not blind us to the circumstance that modernity largely solved all of the major prob­lems of pre-modern society. Yup, pretty much all of them.

For most of recorded history, child mortality was high, starvation com­m­on­place, slavery institutionalized, serf­dom ubiquitous, wars fre­qu­ent, violence a part of everyday life, mon­arch­ical oppression unqu­estion­ed, disease rampant, poverty the rule, literacy low, cruel norms limiting indiv­idual freedom prevailing—and so forth.

Yes, all of these miseries exist in the modern world too. In absolute num­bers, some of them are perhaps worse than ever as the world popu­lation is so much larger. On the other hand—and this is the point here—all of these problems have decreased drama­tically in relative terms. In­deed, if you look at the highly modernized, demo­cratic parts of the world, there is an appar­ent decrease in all of these problems at least by a power of ten. Look at Sweden today: How many peo­ple are starving for each one hundred who starved in the 1700s? One? Pro­bably not even that. When people are poor in the US today, they get food stamps and have to stand in line. In pre-modern times, they simply starved to death.

So modernity, with all its technological and social advances, has pract­ically solved all of the problems of all earlier societies: famine, disease, opp­re­ssion, war, poverty, lack of education, slow and dangerous trans­port­ation, superstition. Yes, even war; even if we count the world wars, the risk of being killed by another human being was statistically smaller during the 20th century than at any time before. Steven Pinker wrote an often-cited book about it in 2011, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and then another one in 2018, Enlightenment Now. Since the millenn­ium, the number of people killed globally in violent con­flicts has been extre­mely low compared to any previous per­iod (in per capita terms).

Yet, of course, modern life is no walk in the park; it is still incredibly cruel and full of suff­ering—something that granny’s granny prob­ably would have had a hard time imagining if we went on for hours about all the awesome sauce (I imagine I’d pause for a long time to describe what I get to eat, where I have travelled and so forth).

Hence, it’s a relative utopia: It really is super-duper mega awe­some not to starve, to have modern medicine, to be able to speak and think freely, to have dominant sex with hot young men if you’re an old guy (I suppose granny might have had a problem with that part), to choose how to live your life and what to do for a living, to have internet and all kinds of abun­dance (even when un­employ­ed, you can eat well and have shelter and use many of the tech­no­logies). It really is nice.

At the same time that doesn’t mean life has become “perfect”. So to­day’s developed societies really are utopian, but only in a relative sense. This is the both-and of development. They are utopian as compared to what came before. But that doesn’t mean today’s society has no pro­blems. In fact, it has two very distinct kinds of problems:

  • Residual problems
  • New emergent properties problems

The residual problems are the percentages left here and there of the pre-modern stage of development: not all people are protected from cur­able dis­eases, some live in areas controlled by mobsters and are thereby still opp­­ressed, some slavery still goes on (30 million de facto slaves is a figure peo­ple often bring up), and some people still starve or other­wise suffer from pov­erty.

It’s true that the UN Development Goals were met in advance[i] and abject poverty is withering away as eco­nomic growth and ambi­tious, far-reaching aid programs take effect. But still, there are some resi­duals here and there, and they should cert­ainly be accou­nted for; they still define hundreds of millions of lives. They are, however, not quite the pro­ducts of modern society, as histor­ical develop­ments clear­ly indi­cate: Why else would they all be falling so sharply across the globe as the mo­dern world-system progresses? Nay, amigo, they are resid­uals, leftovers. The most modern countries have the least of these iss­ues.

The other category, which concerns us more in this context, are the pro­blems showing up as a direct result of modern society: the new emer­gent properties problems. At a bare minimum, there are three such prob­lems:

  1. ecological unsus­tainability,
  2. excess ineq­ual­ity, and
  3. alienation and stress.

Notwithstanding that these are, on an individual scale, preferable to the wars, droughts and pestilences of yore, they are still quite serious. Sustain­ability issues like climate ch­ange, ecolo­gical collapse, mass extinction—not to mention the looming threat of nuc­lear holocaust and other increas­ingly tangible doomsday scenarios (haywire AI or nanotech, biological war­fare)—can potentially cause miseries worse and more irreparable than even the black plague.

The inequalities of the world may seem bearable compared to the pov­erty of pre-modern subsistence farming, but nowadays we all live in the proxi­mity of wealth and abundance, know­ing for instance the dis­ea­ses that kill our kids in fact are curable. Such knowledge can make our rela­tive poverty even more bitter and insufferable than the harshness of pre-mod­ern life. Indeed, it is one of the most robust findings of social science that income inequality correlates with violent crime, within coun­tries and even more so between countries.[ii]

And alien­ation—a pervading sense of estrangement and exis­t­ential angst—causes young people to suffer depression and com­mit suicide to an unpre­ce­­dented degree. It causes people to live mean­ingless and empty lives ami­dst what superficially looks like freedom and abundance; lives in which we become increasingly stressed out and often exper­ience burnout.

I rem­em­ber spending seven years fending off suicidal thoughts, as a per­vasive but unspecific anxiety haunted my young adult­hood. This is not un­comm­on in devel­op­ed, modern coun­tries where the trends generally point towards rising mental health pro­blems in adolescents and young adults. These are perhaps not as acute or severe as the chall­enges that people faced before mod­er­nity, but they still remain quite serious issues.

All three of these problems are caused, in one way or another, by the dramatic expansion of our industrial productivity: sustainability because we pro­duce and consume more than our ecosystems can endure, ineq­u­a­l­ity because this wealth is distributed in a series of “scale free net­works”, where the most cen­tral positions gain a larger proportion of the wealth, and alienation becau­se of the abstractness and distance that shows up be­tween our every­day activities and their benefits for ourselves and others: Many of us lose a sense of meaning, purpose and direction. (Of cour­se, there’s a lot more to the story on each one of these, but we’re just sket­ching here to get on to the point).

We have finally created a land that flows with milk and honey; literally, vast amounts of highly nutritional substances flow from the taps of indu­stry—yet it’s making us and the planet sick. The paradise of yesterday is great, but it carries with it a number of unexpected pathologies that need to be dealt with in tomorrow’s relative utopia.

“metamodern society is defined as one in which the pro­blems that emerged in modernity—lack of sustainability, excess inequa­lity, alienation and stress—have been resolved.”

Beauties Lost and New Heights Reached

Beyond the two categories—residual and new emergent properties pro­blems—we can add two more to the list of troubles of today’s society. The third cate­gory I’ve called “beau­ties lost”. It entails all the good things that were prevalent in pre-modern societies, but for different reasons dimini­shed as societies became modern.

A good example is “community”, or what the classical 19th century soc­iologist Ferd­inand Tönnies called Ge­mein­schaft (modern life, at least in its later urban­ized stages, generally offers little cozy, genuine comm­unity in which you con­tinuously relate to a wider group of family and neighbors).

As an exam­ple of Gemeinschaft lost, compare the expansion of electro­n­ically available music—mill­ions of bands, artists and orchestras avail­able online to be played with marvelous sound systems—to the fact that most of us have stopp­ed singing. In all pre-modern societies, people got togeth­er and sang, pretty often too. The individualism and per­form­ance orien­ted attitu­des of mod­ern life somehow nudge us to shut up, un­less we’re alone in the shower or partake in a formally organized choir. Music gain­ed, but singing lost.

An­other example of a beauty lost is “sim­plicity”; that life had a kind of directness and straightforwardness which all­owed a certain modest satis­fac­tion. Other such beauties lost are the “conn­ection to the soil”, appre­ciation of the small things—perhaps a well-crafted tool—or the via con­templativa of monastic life; the calm, ascetic life in service of spiritual goals. You get the picture.

These “beauties lost” have been brought up by many reactionary move­ments and romantics of all kinds (I mentioned the inte­gral trad­itionalists, for instance). But the romantic and nostalgic longing lends itself to exagg­eration—to overvaluing an imagined past, a yesteryear that never quite happened. What we should do instead is simply to acknow­ledge that all societal progression into later and “more ad­vanced” stages en­tails some beauties lost, and that there may be good reasons to figure out how some of these can be regained and reincorp­or­ated without trying to turn the clock back.[iii]

The fourth category of problems is more important. We can call it “new heights rea­ch­ed”. There are problems that are perhaps not directly cau­sed by modern life, but whose solutions only now come within reach. Only when we acquire greater capabilities can we begin to see them and direct our atten­tion towards them. In the old days, we simply didn’t have the luxury to worry about these problems; now we can. We have reached new heights and hence we can begin to tackle higher issues. The soul always wants more; it is never contented. You never get to the end; there is al­ways a new hor­izon after this one, and another.

What are these new issues then, these “new heights”? I would like to men­tion four of them.

The first “new-heights issue” is tied to alienation, but still distinct from it: the lack of meaning and fulfillment. What happens in a society where you already have food, shelter and abundance? People begin to worry that they might be squan­dering their lives; that they may not be making the best of it; that some­thing is still lacking; that life has become boring and too pre­dictable.

The second new-heights issue has to do with struggle and heroism; how can we align our own petty lives with the overarching story about hu­m­­anity, the world and even the cosmos? How can we be something else, some­thing more, than just an average Jane or Joe consumer? Now that we have relative safety and autonomy, how can we make it worth­while? Once we have achieved a comfortable villa life, there is still, lin­gering in our hearts, a visceral longing for greatness within us. How can we tran­scend ourselves; how can we serve something greater so that our lives become imbued with crisp, clear moments of intense aliveness?

The third higher issue pertains to gender equality and freedom of iden­tity: Can we be sexually emancipated, not only in the sense that we can be women with equal rights as men, but that we can be truly sexually and emo­tionally fulfilled? Can we experience erotic fulfill­ment and intimacy both at once? Can we be gay, transgender, or otherwise experi­ment with and create our sexual and gender identities? Women’s liber­ation and the other gender/sexuality issues have come within our grasp in mod­ern soci­eties, but they are not conclusively solved by it.

The fourth and last higher issue is animal rights. Of course, a big part of the problem with the abuse of animals has to do with modern phen­omena such as industrial farming. Animal suff­ering is exacerbated by modernity, even with the increased legislations for “ani­mal welfare”. There have been some pre-mod­ern examples of prin­cipled con­cern for animals in the East­ern traditions (Buddhism and Jain­ism), but even these have not quite res­embled the modern-day animal rights move­ment. In Jainism, for inst­ance, concern with animals grew from a general non-violence prin­ciple, which is not quite the same as a modern phil­osophy of “rights”. In mod­ern life, we can now create an abundance of vegan and synthetic solutions that allow us to live without animal slavery and exploi­t­ation. Hence, vega­nism becom­es a new issue within our reach.

So, sorry for tricking you into thinking we had only two categories of pro­blems under modernity. We have four, these being:

  • Residual problems (left-overs from before modernity).
  • New emergent properties problems (caused by modernity).
  • Beauties lost (qualities from earlier societies lost under modernity).
  • New heights reached (problems that simply weren’t viable to try to solve before, but now have come within our reach).

Yep, that’s it. Modern society is truly utopian, truly glorious. Except it has these four categories of problems.[iv]

Now to the point we’ve been working our way towards. We live today in what to most earlier generations could only be described as sheer uto­pia. Yet, we hardly wake up every morning to what we feel is a utopian society. It is a utopia only in a relative sense: The problems of old have all but van­ished, just as new ones have appeared—as dark clouds on the hori­zon, growing cracks in the walls, and new subtle knots within our hearts and minds.

What about metamodern society; is it a utopian project? Yes. It is una­polog­etically utopian. A society can be described as metamodern if, and only if, all of the problems of modernity have been more or less resol­ved, meaning that they have been reduced by at least a power of ten.

In other words, metamodern society is defined as one in which the pro­blems that emerged in modernity—lack of sustainability, excess inequa­lity, alienation and stress—have been resolved. So that’s what we’re going for. Fucking utopia.

Fucking relative utopia, that is.

“We are trying to achi­eve a self-organization of society that is happier, in a profound sense of the word, than anything that has gone before it. But we’re not saying it’s going to be a perfect world. In fact, we’re saying it’s going to be as mess­y and risky as ever.”

New Miseries Worth Fighting For

Metamodern society can and will follow the same pattern of rela­tive uto­pia as modern society has. There will be:

  1. residuals of the mod­ern problems: still some inequality, environmental issues and alienation (whereas the pre-mod­ern residuals are redu­ced by yet another order of magn­itude);
  2. and yes, there will be new, emergent problems caused by metamodern society itself (some of which we will discuss in this book in an attempt to preempt them);
  3. and yes, some beauties of modern life will be lost along the way;
  4. and yes, new dark clouds will form on the horizon, new bold challenges to civilization that come within our grasp.

And yes, in some sense, these new problems will be pre­ferable to what we have today; but strangely, they are likely to somehow be even more ser­ious than the chall­enges of modern society.

So that’s the notion of “relative utopia” for you. We are trying to achi­eve a self-organization of society that is happier, in a profound sense of the word, than anything that has gone before it. But we’re not saying it’s going to be a perfect world. In fact, we’re saying it’s going to be as mess­y and risky as ever. More complex. Why should we expect any­thing else, when hist­ory—cultural, geological and astronomical—has thus far meant explosive increases of com­plex­ity?

It shouldn’t surprise us that future society will manage issues that today may seem insoluble, out of reach, or downright impossible. That’s what modern society did. It let steel float and fly, it saved us from disease, it conquered the moon, it brought peace—and so forth. Is it really wrong to think that future soc­iety, the one that comes after the modern, indus­trial one, could do what seems unimaginable today?

Somehow, modern life—and its relative utopia—was possible. Perhaps metamodern life can be too. A simple reason to assume this is the fact that so many intell­igent people are working so hard, in so many different ways, to solve the problems of modernity: sustainability, inequal­ity, alien­ation. Pretty much every smart and idealistic person is grappling with at least some aspect of one of these issues. It’s all over the sciences, all over policy making, in the arts, even on the market—whoever can solve these prob­lems is most cherished, most appreciated, even well-paid. Are we being pulled in some dir­ection, towards a new great attract­or point, upon which a series of attractors converge?

So I’ll say it again. We go ahead with sincere irony, pragmatic idealism, informed naiv­ety and magical realism—to entertain the potential of a rel­ative utopia.

In the end, we still live in a tragic universe; existence has us “eternally by the balls”. But there are new miseries on the horizon, miseries worth fighting for. And there is fun to be had along the way.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

[i]. Even if the anthropologist from Swaziland, Jason Hickel, has done a brilliant job revealing some of the mathematical trickery it took to exaggerate the succ­ess. See: Hickel, J. 2016. The true extent of global poverty and hunger: Questioning the good news narrative of the Millennium Development Goals. Third World Quart­erly. Vol. 37: 5, pp. 749-67.

[ii]. Fajnzylber, P., Lederman, D., Loayza, N. 2002. Inequality and Violent Crime. Jour­nal of Law and Economics. vol. 45: 1-40.

[iii]. Note that I discuss this in detail in my other book, The 6 Hidden Patterns of History. A later “metameme” can include earlier ones via either what I call “reenact­ment”, i.e. when you

[iv]. And to be exact, there are two more cat­egories, but they are more com­plicated and need not concern us here. Just to mention them briefly the first one is transition problems from one stage of society to another—like the horrors of early industrialization. For instance, in Liverpool in 1829, at the heart of budding industrial­ization, life expect­ancy at birth was as low as 29 years; the lowest since the days of the black plague. And such painful tran­sitional periods seem to occur to this day in developing countries. Today, in 2018, people in China report considerably less happiness than they did twenty years ago, despite the fact that poverty rates have been slashed from a third to ten percent. The educated, urban population are especially de­pressed—which feeds right back into the idea about modern alienation.

See: Graham, C., Zhou, S., Zhang, J. 2017. Happiness and Health in China: The Paradox of Progress. World Development. Vol. 96, pp. 231-44.

The other such category is “loop­holes”, i.e. when the values of modern society can be set aside and the ethics of earlier stages of society de facto reign. For instance, modern society transposes (and rela­bels) slavery and serf­dom beyond its own shores under colonialism and, in our days, under the com­plex sub-contractor chains of production and distribution of major corporate transnationals. You could say that these categories are special cases of “residual problems” and “new emer­gent properties” pro­blems. I discuss these in another book titled The 6 Hidden Patterns of History.

Attractors: The Guiding Stars of History’s Winners

What is the main difference between the winners and losers of history?

Answer: Getting the attractors right.[i]

Whereas the amateur studies how the present has been shaped by the past to foresee the future, the pro studies how the future is already sha­ping the present. Many of the great change-makers in history, whether we’re talking about political figures such as Mahatma Gandhi or entrepre­neurs like Steve Jobs, seem to have had an intuitive understanding of the way the future exerts a kind of gravitational effect upon the present; that dev­elop­ments in the present in certain ways are pulled towards the unrea­li­zed potentials of the future. What happens in the present is namely just as much a result of what has been as what can become.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. What you will read below is from the opening chapter of the first part of the book; a chapter that introduces the idea of societal attractors and stresses the importance of letting them guide us if we are to change the world.

“With a well-devel­oped sense of the attractors you get a much clearer picture of what is poss­ible in the near future and what remains a more distant prospect.”

Gandhi saw the world was headed towards universal principles like democracy, human rights, racial equality and rule of law, which inevi­tably would render colonial rule ethically indefensible, even to the coloni­zers themselves. This enabled him to understand how India could be freed in a peaceful and democratic manner; he knew that history—the long-term att­ractors—was on his side. Similarly, because Jobs saw that digitiza­tion was the future, he realized before most others that everyone would want a personal computer.

To those who couldn’t see these attractors, home computers or the end of colonial rule appeared as distant dreams or science fiction. More­over, blindness to attractors makes it exceedingly difficult to know what exactly to do if you actually do indulge in such dreams. With a well-devel­oped sense of the attractors you get a much clearer picture of what is poss­ible in the near future and what remains a more distant prospect.

If you are able to discern different attractors from one another, under­standing their gravitational pull and intricate dynamics, you will be much more capable of successfully navigating the tides of historical chan­ge. The most astonishing and admirable achievements have rarely been made by those who set about to wrestle history and single­handedly ini­tiate a great change, and more often by those who knew the direction of the winds and adjusted their sails accordingly.

If you still don’t get it: Attractors make you smarter. Gandhi’s under­standing of the attractor of a democratic society and national sovereignty enabled him to “push the right buttons” at the right time so that colonial rule could be ended without firing a shot. He knew he did not have to force change to happen, but that it was more effective to gently steer the forces already in motion in a more preferable direction. By getting the attractor right, Gandhi grasped the golden opportunity that had dawned in his time: that freedom could be obtained, not by threat of physical force, but sim­ply by holding his colonial overlords to the same principles they themselves had sworn allegiance to. Brilliant. One person getting the att­ractor right may just have saved a million lives.

Jobs’ understanding of the attractor of a digitized society enabled him to see the computer as more than just a fast calculator to aid govern­ments and businesses, as most of his contemporaries did, but instead as a univer­sal tool to enable common people be more creative and empowered. He knew he didn’t have to know all the things people would use them for, just that he should make them more user-friendly—and a revolu­tion would follow. Getting it right made him filthy rich and turn­ed him into one of the most beloved public figures of our time.[ii] Quite extra­ordinary really.

“if you sense an attractor and seek to act upon it, but people around you demand proof whether it’s going to work, don’t mind these people, carry on; they won’t be the winners of history”

The Spirit of the Laws Evolving

A good example of someone who identified an attractor is Montesquieu’s “separation of powers”, presented in his 1748 trea­tise The Spirit of Laws. Of course, earlier versions of this idea can be traced back to Athenian democracy, but Montesquieu gave it a more phil­oso­phically and logically coherent theory: that the legislative, execu­tive and judiciary powers (parliament, government and courts) must be sepa­rated from each other if we are to avoid tyranny and corruption. This tri­partite separation of powers still in­forms all democratic con­sti­tu­tions in the world today. Well done, my good Baron. You hit upon an attra­ctor.

But today we are dealing with a more abstract form of governance that concerns wider as well as more intimate spheres of human life. So the issue natur­ally becomes more complex: Instead of a three-part division of pow­ers, we need six dimensions; each new power being balanced by no less than five others.

Fiction—written words, sheets of paper—was all that Montesquieu’s idea of the separation of powers was to begin with; nothing really “real”. But his words came alive because, in some abstract sense, the Baron was right. His pre­vailing intuition was that power, whenever unchecked and unbalanced by other powers, is detrimental to freedom. He had no studies to show it, no empirical evidence by today’s standards. No “proof” he was correct. And yet many of us now live in societies gover­ned, at least partly, by Montesquieu’s principles. To this day his ideas draw the fine line be­tween democracy and dictator­ship—but we would probably have never known the former if we had demanded proof he was right before making his fiction reality.[iii]

Consequently, if you sense an attractor and seek to act upon it, but people around you demand proof whether it’s going to work, don’t mind these people, carry on; they won’t be the winners of history, whereas you might end up as the new Gandhi or Steve Jobs.

An Attractor Is…

So what is an attractor precisely? And how is it their knowabouts can make you so smart? Let’s get more precise.

Technically speaking,

an “attractor” is a patter­n or equil­ibrium that under certain conditions is very likely to emerge and stab­ilize within a dyna­mical system, such as a society.

We went from hunter-gatherer soci­e­­ties to agriculture—in Eurasia and the pre-Columbian Americas separat­ely—because agriculture was an attractor. We electrified the world, be­cause electricity was an attractor. We all started using interconnected com­puters, be­cause digitization was an attractor. These things did not happen random­ly.

The world is a chaotic place and the future is never predetermined; but on the general level, some things are just more likely to happen than others, and some are very likely to happen. How likely one development or another is to occur is determined by the “gravitational strength” of the att­ractors. Yes, they even talk about “great attractors” also in cosmology, hen­ce the analogy of gravity or pull.[iv]

The advantages of a digitized society, for instance, are simply so great that the gravitational pull of this attractor makes it very, very likely that we would all own a computer one day once it was invented. Today we see that solar and wind power, self-driving electric cars, crypto currencies and nano-technologies act as strong attractors in a similar vein as digit­iza­tion. These are all (potential) attractor points. Getting it right can make you a bitcoin bill­ionaire or turn you into a star entrepreneur like Elon Musk.

It’s hard to reject the idea of how technological attractors play a role in shaping historical developments. Few would claim the personal com­puter was a fluke or that it is just as likely we today would still light candles rather than light bulbs.

However, when it comes to how we think and how we organize society, people tend to be more dismissive of the notion that such delicate matters are under the influence of attract­ors. We like to think it’s all a big coinci­dence that things turned out the way they did, that the future has never been set in stone; that we can decide in which direction history should unfold. “We do have a choice, don’t we?”

Yes we do. But some choices are just much more likely to be made than others. We all make choices, and we take great pains to ensure we make the right ones in order to avoid our actions being completely hap­hazard. As such (given that certain choices have proven so abu­ndantly preferable to others), wouldn’t it be fair to claim that our choices, on a collective level, tend to form certain patterns that are more likely to emerge than others; that we are destined to decide between a limited range of societal models whenever they become poss­ible?

After all, there are a million ways to organize society. Yet human soci­eties tend to be remarkably similar at any stage of historical develop­ment. We could organize society in accordance with the teachings of the Jones­town suicide cult, or Robert Nozick’s minimal state, or set out to make reality of Orwell’s big brother society, or make children the only electable candidates for government, or have all decisions made by rolling dice—the possibilities are endless. But for some reason most of today’s coun­tries have chosen and tried to organize themselves along the lines of a modern state or polity[v] with a tripartite structure of govern­ance.

Even if the courts in some cases aren’t really free and independent from those who govern, and the actions of those who govern aren’t always held acc­ountable by the governed, most such despotic regimes still pretend to abide to the principles of the rule of law and the notion that the “people” is the sovereign. Coincidence? Or just a way to avoid pissing off the demo­cratic West? Probably not. Even the communist regimes of the past claim­ed to uphold the principle of rule of law and to represent the “people”—hence the frequent use of “the people’s republic” in the name of many of the most brutal dictatorships. Even Nazi Germany clai­med the German people to be the highest sovereign. And the brutal dic­tator Gaddafi also put great efforts into explaining how he had made a spe­cial deal with the Libyan people. So even if the de facto circumstances remain a far cry from the modern template of governance, rulers still try to make it appear as though the syst­em works in accordance with demo­cratic ideals.

The fact that Montesquieu’s system, in one form or another, spread to most of the world can hardly be coincidental. And the fact that the evol­u­tion of democracy, at least in terms of its constitutional struct­ure, more or less makes a full stop at this point—can hardly be a coin­ci­dence either. You reach a plat­eau; every­one reaches some version of the same system, and then we all stay there for deca­des, even cent­uries.

Beyond all the thou­sands of unique histo­r­ical events, personalities, ten­fold increa­ses of GDP output, and con­­flicts and cultures and mark­ets and ran­dom plot twists (like tsunamis and whatnot), the same syst­em emerges with a regul­arity reveal­ing itself with crushing clarity.

Coin­cid­­ence? No. The correct answer is: attractor. The modern demo­cratic state is not the only attractor, but it is certainly one of the most compet­itive ones.

 

So what is the next attractor?

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

[i]. The word “attractor” is taken from the mathematical study of dynamical systems where it’s used to designate a set of numerical values towards which a system tends to evolve. We are here avoiding a more cumbersome discussion about what kinds of attractors there are. Since societies are very complex phenomena, we are talking of complex forms of attractors, called “strange attractors”, i.e. attractors that have a fractal structure. This term was coined by Ruelle and Takens. The most famous strange attractor is the Lorenz attractor, described already in 1963 by Edward Lorenz. These early models were made to describe meteorological phenomena.

See: Ruelle, D., Takens, F., 1971. On the nature of turbulence. Communications in Mathematical Physics. 20 (3): 167–192.

[ii]. Yes, we all know there was a dark side to Jobs, too. The point here is simply to point out the power of attractors.

[iii]. The point is not, of course, that our suggested “Montesquieu 2.0” should cancel the democratic principles of Montesquieu’s tripartite division, but to build another layer on top of them. The new insights regulate the old ones, but they don’t cancel them. Montesquieu’s division of powers still holds.

[iv]. “What Is The Great Attractor?” Universe Today. 2014-07-14.

[v]. I sometimes use the word “polity” instead of “state”.

A Neomasculist Defence of Gillette

I write this article with a heavy heart, a subtle sense of dismay. Never in the world did I imagine myself writing in the defense of a shaving brand. Sigh. Yet, here we are: stuck at gender. In the eleventh hour of existential risks and issues of unimaginable scope, we’re at junior high. We suddenly turn away from terrifying depths, wuthering heights and expanding horizons… to consider dicks and pussies and gender identity. And cheap commercials and shaving. But if that’s where we’re at, so be it.

“If we are going for mass extinction, let’s not do it because we got distracted by our junior high issues.”

Okay, let’s go through this, but then let’s be done with it and be on to something at least vaguely dignified. If we are going for mass extinction, let’s not do it because we got distracted by our junior high issues. Let’s go down with a *little* more dignity, shall we? Finest hour, anyone? How’s that for manhood.

The Video that Shook the World of Men

By now, my readers will know the story: the razor brand Gillette (not really a good-guy company by “politically correct” standards, charging women more for equal products, etc., owned by Swiss giant Procter & Gamble) released a video with a “progressive man” message, commenting on the #metoo movement. The ad also depicts some not-very-masculine boys and adolescents as protagonists. The ad was made by some left-leaning women in marketing. Here’s the video:

This video has been viewed and felt as highly offensive by many men and some (chiefly conservative) women. At the moment is has a million dislikes on YouTube (vs .6 million likes). A boycott was issued, folks filmed themselves throwing away Gillette products. News pundits exploded. YouTuber commentators exploded – among them Ben Shapiro and Joe Rogan (or the latter rather laughed at the issue and said it was “disturbing”). There are many more. This is what I hear them saying:

* The commercial is anti-male (misandrist), depicting all men as bad and masculinity as inherently negative.
* The commercial is patronizing to men by explaining to us how we should be.
* The commercial is preaching obvious and boring things.
* It’s not the place of a shaving company to carry forward norms of society.
* The commercial tells it wrong, men don’t speak for women; rather it’s the other way around.

So first thing’s first. What do I feel when I watch it?

Nothing really. Neutral. Slight positive because it lifts some issues such as bullying and sexual harassment. Slight disgust at capitalist opportunism disguised as idealism. Thinking I’ve seen all of the situations in the ad and do recognize that most men in most situations do indeed not stand up and call folks out. Still it all comes out a bit silly, as commercials generally do.

“To the offended party: I think you’re all wrong, folks.”

To the offended party: I think you’re all wrong, folks. And I think that your reaction says more about yourselves than about the commercial. I think you are exact equivalents of the non-constructive, bitter, bitchy kinds of feminists and anti-racists whose toes are always perpetually stepped upon by one wrong word, some naked skin, one commercial or another.

I’m calling you out, guys: you’re being over-sensitive. You’re taking part in a silly hysteria.

Over-Sensitive Machos vs. Science

Let’s look at the points of critique:

* The commercial is anti-male (misandrist), depicting all men as bad and masculinity as inherently negative.

Actually, no. It says men can be both good and bad, and that being good sometimes requires you to question yourself and to stand up against the behavior of other men. That’s the vision offered of a positive masculinity.

The fact that so many men interpret the video as an offense on all masculinity, rather reveals that they are being touchy and misunderstanding things.

* The commercial is patronizing to men by explaining to us how we should be.

Actually, yes. But so are all the other commercials telling us to be top-athlete studs and that we should shave and have thick jaws. So people basing their critique on this criterion cannot be genuine, unless they have also criticized and been offended by the former Gillette commercials.

* The commercial is preaching obvious and boring things.

Yes. And still, that’s how norms work. That’s sociology 101. You repeat obvious things and link them to desirable traits. Joe Rogan says that’s not how society works, and he is exactly wrong, as can and has been demonstrated in empirical science. Quote:

“We posited that media images of men influence the gender role attitudes that men express soon after exposure to the images. A total of 212 men (87% European American, 7% Asian or Asian American, 3% African American, and 3% other) viewed magazine advertisements containing images of men that varied in terms of how traditionally masculine vs. androgynous they were and whether the models were the same age or much older than the viewers. Men who had initially been less traditional espoused more traditional attitudes than any other group after exposure to traditionally masculine models, although they continued to endorse relatively nontraditional views after exposure to androgynous models. These findings suggest that nontraditional men’s gender role attitudes may be rather unstable and susceptible to momentary influences such as those found in advertising.”

And no, it’s not obvious to the world population. Quote from UN report:

It is estimated that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner (not including sexual harassment) at some point in their lives. However, some national studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. Evidence shows that women who have experienced physical or sexual intimate partner violence report higher rates of depression, having an abortion and acquiring HIV, compared to women who have not.

And yes, changed attitudes can actually and truly reduce violence against women (as well as other violence, bullying and sexual harassment).  WHO-reports have been written about it (see p. 8).

Hence, empirical science is firmly on the side of the Gillette ad and on the opposite side of the sea of whining men. Currently at 22 million views, if you do the math, this commercial has been watched by the “world-soul” roughly one full human life-time, including sleep. And it will no doubt be watched many more lifetimes. Given the predictive suggestions of science, it may well be the case that it has already saved a truckload of girls from getting harassed, battered or raped.

* It’s not the place of a shaving company to carry forward norms of society.

Okay, so this one is a bit more serious. Should commercials tell us what to do and whom to be in the first place? Perhaps not. But if I have to choose between ones saying we should be sensitive and brave (as this one) and being athletic studs (most others), I prefer this one.

“I expect some angry reactions now and some ad hominems (pomo, low-stage, daddy issues, soy-boy, disembodied, keep ‘em comin’).”

* The commercial tells it wrong, men don’t speak for women; rather it’s the other way around.

This was pointed out by Ben Shapiro, based on anecdotal experience and by other observers as well. Again, science says the opposite with very strong and consistent figures.

Anyway, touché guys. I expect some angry reactions now and some ad hominems (pomo, low-stage, daddy issues, soy-boy, disembodied, keep ‘em comin’). Which is also what happens when you go after hysterical non-productive feminism. Can’t you see that you, self-proclaimed masculists, are the mirror image of the latter? Come on boys, prove me right.

Postfeminism /// Neomasculism

What would then be a productive, healthy, masculine reaction?

Frankly – to just not care about a stupid commercial. To be man enough to work to save the world. Shaved or not.

The pathology revealed by what can only be described as the disproportionate and inappropriate public response to this ad is not, however, as most feminists will claim, misogyny. No, it runs much deeper than that.

We need a wide large-scale project of personal development on the behalf of boys and men, in order to get into step with the new economy, the new woman – and new gender identities – arriving on the world stage. What we are seeing, I believe, is an expression of how powerless men feel in this strange new wonderland. And when we feel powerless, we get stingy and over-sensitive. This pathology runs right through – and marks – the current men’s movement. Unfortunately. It’s simply not a good grade for them. We need a much better men’s movement than that. That, if anything, is what the Gillette debacle has revealed.

I am only comfortable with a postfeminist position *if* it successfully transcends and includes feminism – in particular the undeniable and empirical aspects of inequality and relations between the genders. Otherwise it isn’t real postfeminism. The proof that the folks offended by the ad weren’t true postfeminists? None of them bothered to check if the world actually *does* work according to the assumptions of this ad. Which it does. More proof? Their message is indistinguishable from that of the classical conservatives. How much is this post-anything? And how much is it simply social conservatism? Nothing wrong with it, but that’s what it is.

“I want us to move towards a “neomasculist” position, one that *is* tough and manly but is still friends with feminism.”

I want us to move towards a “neomasculist” position, one that *is* tough and manly but is still friends with feminism. One that doesn’t get “offended” at every corner, isn’t over-sensitive. One that lifts itself, by virtue of character and understanding, above the trench wars of the gender issues and identity politics at large. One that lands in a paradigm of emotional and sexual development.

This issue is addressed in my upcoming book, Nordic Ideology. Feminism and masculism need one another. They are two sides of the same equation. And several commentators have pointed out, including the philosopher Slavoj Žižek and the online media channel Rebel Wisdom (edit: link was provided by commentator) that if there is “toxic masculinity”, it cannot be *all* 10 000 years of traditional masculinity, and there should logically be such a thing as “toxic femininity”. I agree. And I’m not that fond of the term, toxic masculinity, because it makes it sound like being macho would always be a bad thing.

I’m not siding with the male-bashing here: just asking more of the men’s reactions. This wasn’t real male-bashing and these reactions aren’t appropriate. And more of the men’s movement in general. If folks want me to do it, I will even take a break from other activities and write a short book on a new (metamodern) view of gender and sexuality: Postfeminism /// Neomasculism would be the working title.

I realize that I tease a bit in this article. But I think, frankly, that these affronted men should be able to take it. If you are furious right now, please do stop and think of why. Be honest. Feel your body. I can only make you mad if I hit your insecurities. What makes you tick so? The answer is in there. That’s a teacher better than any shaving commercial.

Hey, I’m treating you like men by telling it straight. Straight talk is not condescending if it’s true and productive. And frustrations aren’t always bad. Neither are conflicts. I say, such a neomasculist approach is indeed the best a man can get.

So, affronted party of un-Gillette-shaved machos – what have you got? 

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

 

The World’s Greatest Speech that You’ve Never Heard Of

As he climbed to the mound’s summit, he let out a long, deep, piercing howl, his face solemnly turned skyward. A serene calm came over his expression, as he gazed out across the many gathered with sad eyes. He sniffed. The crowd grew silent; only a few lonely barks and excited whimpers echoed back to him. At a distance more were amassing still. Clearly something was astir.
“We are brought together by a much more fundamental fact. We know this basic truth within the most sacred chambers of our hearts.”

Cited from The Penguin Book of Modern Speeches.
Held on May 4th, 2012. Greenwich, UK.

 

The Cover of Penguin Book to 20th Century Speeches .

“We have gathered here, brothers and sisters, to transcend. To transcend the boundaries of race. Since time immemorial—at least, to our best knowledge, since the last Ice Age—we have been separated, splintered, into shards. These shards we call races.

We tell ourselves and one another that this race, or that one, is superior; it stands above all others. Some individuals are of purer breed, we say; some belong to this land more than others. Some races are favored and pampered, others exploited and made to bow.

But it is not race that unites us, nor defines us. Any attempt to unite into races ultimately leads to division and estranges us from our true selves. And thus, race alone can never make us strong. We are brought together by a much more fundamental fact. We know this basic truth within the most sacred chambers of our hearts: that we are dogs.

Let this transcendence ring through all of us, through all races and breeds—beagle, poodle, greyhound, terrier, bulldog, dachshund, dalmatian, golden retriever, from the chihuahua to the great Dane—we have the love of all dogkind within us. That is what makes us dogs. It is universal. We hold this truth to be self-evident, that all dogs are created equal by a single divine creator, who created Dog in His image.

Let our howls chime as bells across this land, across every land and clime, until this simple message is recognized and made fully manifest: that each pup shall know that she will never be judged by the color and patterns of her fur, but only by the virtues of her character and the scent of her excrement.

This holds true for hound, pedigree and mongrel alike. Injustice must come to an end; and it will come to an end. May we be able to crouch and huddle together at bowls filled with food and water we generously share; at the bowls of brotherhood.

But, my fellow dogs, let us not stop there.”

[Pause—sad eyes gazing deeply into the distance. Stars begin to appear in the clearing skies.]

“There is an issue that lies even beyond race.

The animals.

When we reach into the simple kindness that lies at the foundation of our doggity, we know in our hearts that we have mistreated them. We have used them. We have exploited them. We have driven them from their natural habitats for the most trivial of concerns.

We use them for food, for toil, for clothes, for leashes, for shelter, for company. But how do we repay them? With slavery, death and extrajudicial punishment.

Has our divine creator granted us this right over the non-dog animals? I say non-dog animals, for we too are animals, albeit endowed with unique traits. Is this not the same mode of thought that has hitherto enabled the degradation of whole races of our fellow dogs?

It is true, as you might say, that the animals have little means to voice their concerns. Can we then know if they too have valid interests? They cannot bark, howl and whimper as we. They cannot lick, show teeth, sniff buts and wag their tails in cultured and meaningful manners. But is the fault theirs that we fail to understand them? Have we not every reason to believe, that all the lower animals, too, have emotions—if not as enriched as our own?

It can make us wonder, indeed, if dogs are not chosen and endowed with supremacy by Heaven. Can the animals truly smell as we can? They lack our snouts, it is true. Can they know the joy of playing pups, know the depth of motherhood? Can they feel the profound bond of the pack and its responsibilities? Can they be enthralled by the sublime scent and refined femininity of a bitch? Can they love? Can they dream at night and howl to the heavens?

I alone cannot answer for all the non-dog animals. We must seek the answers in them. Cows we eat and use for leather—but is there suffering in their moos and bellows? Pigs we eat, sheep, cats and birds we chase, humans we let work for us to give us food and shelter and we keep them as pets. What do we smell in each of these animals? Can we smell fear and pain in them?

Let us speak of humans specifically. In their murmurs there is little meaning to us beyond simple requests that we sit, fetch something, or reach out our paws to them. But many of us have kept humans for company and convenience, and many of us will have known affection for our own humans, as though they were part of our pack. And I have no doubt that many have felt that their humans loved them back. It may be a simpler form of love, but it is there.

Humans have sometimes been called Dog’s best friend. They are our pets. Of course, they lack the dignity to walk on four legs and perpetually lean on their hind legs as beggars. We keep them close to us, and perhaps for this reason, we treat them differently than we do other non-dog animals. But are they so different from the others? Does our little creek of solidarity with them not lead us to a river of solidarity with many other mammals; a river which in turn is strengthened until it leads into an ocean of love and compassion for all sentient beings?

We need not ask of one another to manifest this oceanic love each day. For just as doggity is created in the image of the divine, so is each of us, after all, only a dog. But can we a least extend a simple caring for the non-dog animals? We are, unlike many other animals, blessed to be omnivores; we need not feast upon the flesh and blood of the oppressed. Can we at least show them this simple courtesy? Yes, our ancestors hunted and ate flesh, but today we have more choices and better knowledge.

Yes, the animals harm and devour one another. And they fail to take even the simplest perspectives of other species. Just look at the humans; they destroy other animals without any apparent concern. Just as we are canine-centric, seeing Dog as the measure of all things, so they are anthropo-centric, believing that life and existence revolves around them.

But they are non-dog animals; what should we expect? Should we hold ourselves to the standards of cats, birds, monkeys and squirrels? Should we, as lions, who also eat flesh, kill the cubs of rival males after a divorce? Have we come no farther?

If it means anything at all to be a dog being, surely it must be that we can rise above cruelty and indifference against the animals with which we, after all, share ancestry?

If we are animals, let us not act as animals; let us for once become the good dogs we are meant to be—and show simple kindness towards the non-dog animals. Let us be able to say to ourselves: ‘Good dog! That a boy! Attagirl!’

It is our destiny to transcend the boundaries of race. And it is the destiny of dogs to transcend the boundaries of species.”

[Howls and barks fill the air, proud snouts turned skyward under the onset of a moonlit night.]

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.

Today’s tune, “Tearz for Animals” by CocoRosie:

Hanzi Talking about “Metamodern Values”

Hanzi Freinacht at the bar, talking about the development of values: “I want to talk about values. Let’s begin with this question: “What are good values?” How do you know if the values that you hold true to your heart are valid? How do you know if they’re efficient, if they’re true, if they correspond to the real problems out there in the world? Are some values perhaps better than others?”

The central claim that I have is that postmodern values emerge from the very core or center of modern values, and that metamodern values emerge from the very core or center of postmodern values.

Here’s a way of thinking about it, that I think might be fruitful. I think that some values correspond to certain societies or certain time periods. And I think that some values meet the demands of those societies and time periods – and their life conditions. Which is why they evolved in the first place. So medieval people had medieval values because they lived in medieval societies. Modern people have modern values because they live in modern societies.

Today I’d like to talk, then, about three sets of values – about three families, as it were – of different kinds of values. These three are, in order of appearance, and in order of emergence more crucially:

1. Modern values
2. Postmodern values, and
3. META modern values

The central claim that I have is that postmodern values emerge from the very core or center of modern values, and that metamodern values emerge from the very core or center of postmodern values.

So you’re going to have, in the modern world, a lot of people who have and express and sincerely feel modern values. And you’re going to have a minority of people – but a pretty big minority, especially in late modern or advanced modern societies – who express and live and embody postmodern values. And there is, emerging at this point, something I would like to call metamodern values. And they’re still emerging. They’re still a bit experimental, but they’re distinct from postmodern values nevertheless.

So to begin with, are some of these values better than others?

Yes and no, I would say. We can look at it individually and collectively.

Individually speaking, let’s say you go back in time, or you go to a less modern country, and you meet someone who has very traditional values. They believe in God, literally everything that’s written in the Bible or the Koran, and they’re a devout follower, and they believe that the world is 6000 years old and that gay people should be stoned to death, for instance.

Let’s call the values of this person pre-modern. Does this person have worse values than you do? Do they have more primitive values? Are they a better or worse person?

It would be difficult to argue that this person has a lower morality than you do. They still act kindly, love their family, and follows what they have been taught is right and wrong. Their interests and feelings are as important as yours.

But collectively… we would be in huge trouble if in modern societies, people have pre-modern values, the kind of values of pre-modern societies. If you have a modern society, but it is run by values akin to those of Genghis Khan, or even just the values of traditional relatively authoritarian Catholicism, you get stuff like authoritarian dictatorship, or even Nazism: aggressive foreign policies, no focus on sustainability, and so forth.

So collectively, it is very important, that we as a society have values that correspond to the realities and challenges of our present day and age. As things look today, we are leaving the industrial age, and the age of the Enlightenment behind, and we are entering a new kind of society altogether. And most of us still have modern values. Which is to say that our values are not in tune with the society that we ourselves have created.

So a large part of our inability to tackle the problems of the modern world have to do with the fact that we have perhaps not sufficiently updated our own values. We haven’t sufficiently grown as human beings to match the challenges we are faced with.

The Three Modern Challenges

Specifically, modern society faces us with three challenges, and these challenges grow as modern society progresses to its later stages. You have:

1. Sustainability. The world economy is not sustainable and is going to crash due to exponential growth on a limited planet.

2. Excessive inequalities. Even though poverty is dropping globally, we still have extreme inequalities that can hardly be justified and in some ways are growing.

3. Alienation. This includes the many subtle mental health issues that stem from modern life.

These are the problems caused by modern society, but that we as modern people find ourselves unable to tackle with modern values.

Modern Values

What, then, are modern values in the first place?

We know them more or less from the mainstream of society. These are the values of industrial civilization. They are the values of the Enlightenment.

There is a belief in science.
There is a belief in progress.
There is a belief in rationality.
Oftentimes there is a belief in the individual.
It is meritocratic, meaning everybody has to earn their position by a proven track record.

And in a way, it is kind of sincere. Modernity and modern values are married to a kind of sincerity. You ask mother nature, by the means of scientific method, and you get her to tell you the truth. And then you verify or falsify the claims of one another, so as to serve the progress and advancement of mankind – or that’s the idea.

This is pretty much what we all learn in school.

Some people thought that was the end of history. Some people thought, that’s as far as we’ll get, and from now on, humanity’s journey onward will not be into new philosophies, but only into more and more scientific and technological and progress.

But as modern society has progressed, more and more people – especially the ones that are highly educated and culturally sensitive and often, actually, according to research, the more intelligent ones – begin to question those values.

Postmodern Values

Enter postmodernism. Enter the postmodern values.

So what are those? You can find them around the counter culture of modern and Western society. All modern societies have a sizable counter culture. You have significant postmodern populations especially among the most modern societies in the world. You can find them among humanities professors, students, sociologists, critical social sciences, intellectuals of different sorts.

Instead of believing in science, postmodern people tend to be critical towards the supposed objectivity of science. They tend to be skeptical. They tend to want to pick it apart and look at power structures that drive this purportedly rational search for the truth.

The postmodernists say: “It’s not rational. It’s driven by all sorts of all too human interests, all too human relations.”

They say: “I don’t believe in progress. I don’t believe in your grand histories of the world. I just believe that there are many different histories, and these are all situated among the people who they are meaningful to. And you have to understand those people on their own premises, rather than fitting them into your own ideas of the world and where it’s going.”

There is no one big history, with one big direction, of the world.

Postmodernists don’t believe in rationality, beginning with Freud and his exploration of the irrational unconscious, and beginning with Marx and Engels and their theories about how people are blinded by ideologies in everyday life. The postmodern thinkers don’t believe there is such a thing as a rational human being. Human beings are driven by irrational drives, and a lot of times by their social surroundings, even by the structures of the language we speak – things that lie far beyond our own individual, conscious making.

Rather than the individual, then, you postmodern thinkers look at society. Even committing suicide – the most individual choice you can make, if you want to live or not – is a societal matter. In some countries, suicide rates are ten times or twenty times higher than in others, which says that we are governed by society more than we could normally imagine.

And, of course, postmodern minds tend think less of modern meritocracy and be against hierarchies. They question the hierarchies of everyday life. Why is the boss always a man, why is it always a tall person, why is it always a white guy? Why do the rich get so much political power? Why are all the Nobel prizes going to white guys, and why are they afforded by other white guys… in their fifties?

Rather than the modern sincerity, then, you get the postmodern irony. Think of The Simpsons for instance; this whole show is steeped in what could be said to be “cultural postmodernism”. They’re ironic towards pretty much everything. Everything gets an ironic beating, including the show itself.
Irony is the guiding principle of the postmodern mind.

Metamodern Values

But after you’ve been through a whole lot of postmodern irony, for a long time, and you’ve deconstructed (or “picked apart”) your own thoughts, what happens is, in the long run it gets rather dissatisfying.

In the long run, you find out, you don’t actually have anything to believe in anymore. Then you tend to fall into the traps of crude forms of nihilism and relativism, and you don’t really know the path forward. And you get stuck in all of these details, all of this turning of stones, looking at the exceptions, and the cracks, and the contrasts.

And that’s where metamodern values enter. Metamodern values bring in some hope and sincerity again. In a way they’re both modern and postmodern at the same time. That’s the metamodern value system; that you take the sincerity from modern life, together with a very healthy good dose of critical irony of the postmodern mind.

Metamodern values you cannot find in any larger numbers at this time. You have small, thin networks around the globe, writing about these things, talking about this shift, having conferences. The first academic journal is being started. The first political party with metamodern values has also been started, in Sweden and Denmark.

Metamodern values grow from populations of postmodern people. If you get enough postmodern people, sooner or later are going to turn into metamodernists.

Both progress and critique. “Both and” is a central theme in the metamodern mind. Finding the best “both ands” of life, itself becomes a metamodern value. At least you have to give both sides of the argument a fair chance.

“The central claim that I have is that postmodern values emerge from the very core or center of modern values, and that metamodern values emerge from the very core or center of postmodern values.”

Metamodern people labor to stretch their minds so as to take the best possible of both worlds: both-and, both-and – oscillation between two poles, or superposition between two potentials.

So how do you both believe in progress and not believe in it at the same time? You adopt a developmental view of human perspectives.

A core metamodern belief is the growth of people; personal inner growth of people, through stages of development. A simple example of which is actually the value systems I have presented in this talk.

Modern values show up in history at one point, they emerge, they grow in strength, they spread in the world, they take over whole political systems, and they give birth, eventually, to postmodern values. Oftentimes it is relatively privileged people within modern societies who can accept and take in and understand the postmodern values. And once the postmodern values have grown, and gone through many iterations, and eaten their own tail as it were, for a long time, they give birth to metamodern values.

And people who have metamodern values recognize this sequence. They understand, then, that there is a developmental sequence at the heart of what it means to be human.

So society develops through stages of development. And there is a direction to those stages. Human beings and our values, our psychologies, our personalities, also develop through stages of development.

Here, then, is the crucial point: If society develops ahead of us, the people, normal human beings like you and me, then we will live in a society that doesn’t match the values that we hold dear. We won’t be able to resolve the central issues of late modern global society. And we will never be able to arrive safely at the next historical stop, let’s say a postindustrial, digitized, global society.

So the postmodern critique asks too much of people. It asks of the modern mind to be somebody it is not. It doesn’t see the developmental perspective, that most people do not have postmodern values because they simply cannot. They simply cannot meet the inner demands that this value system requires.

How, then, do we resolve the central issues of modern society? Here’s what I believe.

Only if people grow past the modern values can we create a sustainable world.
Only if people grow past the modern values can we create an equal and fair economy.
Only if people grow past the modern values can we fill the hole in the soul that modern society leaves in so many.

Postmodern critique goes some way, but it does not offer us this path to growth. Metamodern values are all about putting that inner growth at the heart and center of how we design society.

That is our utopia: a society designed to help each of us to grow as a human being. From the inside out. So that we can match the complexities of the world.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.