It is interesting how inescapable hierarchy is - even for the egalitarian left, a hierarchy has to emerge of which groups are more equal than others in order to even begin to marshal their preferred policies and people into place, and then help the vanguard march down the path to utopia.

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Ellul's "The Technological Society" is still one of the best analyses of the annihilation of a society made for humans and it's replacement with a society, if one can call it that, made for technology.

Unfortunately it was written in a post-war, industrial-age context. Essays like yours are in the same spirit but with an eye on current events. Much appreciated.

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Jan 15·edited Jan 15Liked by N.S. Lyons

This is really spectacular and thanks for unpacking this. At the center of all of this, I suspect, is an essential disagreement over anthropology: what is a human being and what is he for? Without an understanding of this we know nothing of human nature and, accordingly, are unable to establish what it is that constitutes human flourishing.

You say, "The truth, in my view, is that it is in part precisely an unrestrained lust for change in the name of progress that got us into our current civilizational mess in the first place." Totally agree. But the dual-use nature of technology - that it can be used for good or ill - means that we must know in some sense what constitutes the "good". The problem with untethered progress is that the ultimate destination and reason for it are ill-defined. Musk's neuralink may eventually connect brains to AI, but it may also transform the lives of quadriplegics. Can we distinguish the desirability of one over the other? Not in the absence of a common vision of the human good.

Even establishment conservatives have lost sight of the distinctions between RW Progressivism and conservatism itself. The recent uncomprehending reaction of National Review to the viral sensation Anthony Oliver ("Rich Men North of Richmond") was, I think, suggestive along similar lines to the point you're making here. I had a few thoughts about that event that are overlapping in some ways with your thinking here.


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Jan 15·edited Jan 15Liked by N.S. Lyons

Finding a new N.S. Lyons piece in my daily Substack inbox is a present!

I love this article. What frosts me with respect to the mischaracterization of political groupings is the slippery nature of those supporting the group ideas but claiming independence in thought, views and ideas. It is like they root for the Yankees and own season tickets to the games because it is expected in their social circle, but root for the S.F. Giants in private. It is inauthentic, hypocritical and I don't think we should give anyone a pass for that type of behavior.

But back to the topic at hand. I think N.S. covered this point, but I think it is key. Progress and the related increase in overall prosperity that derives from progress requires ingredients that technology threatens to undermine. We are seeing clear proof of this today and WRPs are demonstrating a great big pile of lacking wisdom in their eagerness to discount it. I think they end up with a nerdy God complex and lose perspective for the combination of system stability and the gauntlet of mental, emotional and psychological development... the actual path they benefitted from to arrive at their leadership position in technological achievement. Musk has the perspective... it is why he lives in the US and does not try to accomplish what he is doing in South Africa.

This stuff isn't easy to achieve and it is a slippery slope back down once the stability and paths are lost. It comes down to the simple explanation of human capability. High human capability has enabled the US to pull the rest of the world forward in astounding technological progress. But we are in decline.

I have hired probably over 100 people in my 40+ years of corporate management experience. There are a subset of qualities that make a quality employee. There are two domains: hard skills and soft skills. The former can often be taught depending on the job. The latter often cannot... at least cannot very easily.

The latter, in my experience, is basically a test of relationship capability. There is a likeability factor (and attractiveness certainly helps)... but there is that related aspect of being a normie... being psychologically and mentally whole and stable. Being able to communicate well with everyone, and to

Tech=enabled modernity is screwing this all up. The younger job candidates have terrible soft skills. Many more of them are high maintenance. And they are also lacking hard skills and the work ethic to get them.

My experience with these shapes my political views and why I am really worried about the direction of the country. I believe we have harmed, and are harming, children who then cannot function well enough as adults. They lack resilience, they lack coping skills, they lack relationship skills, they are not psychologically nor mentally whole... they are not ready for work. They are certainly bright and more knowledgeable about the world... more tech-savvy. But they struggle to apply these gifts in productive ways.

Given the choice to deal with more of them in the workforce, I am looking for software and robotics solutions instead. But then, who will invent and make the software and robots? And without career paths, what will happen to the mental and psychological state of the average human? How will we maintain the fantastic bar of human capability that got us to this point of such marvelous technological advancement.

The RWPs need to reach a bit deeper in their deep-thinking on this subject. Foundational stability that includes the traditional values that conservatives support isn't any impediment to progress, it is a requirement.

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Jan 15Liked by N.S. Lyons

RWP’s suffer the same arrogance as the left progressive: vain, their education and intelligence dulls them, they loose feel and suppleness. How can’t you learn from the past; They are doomed before they start.

“ What does education often do? It makes a straight ditch of a meandering brook.” Henry David Thoreau

Our author says hierarchy versus egalitarianism. We could also say modern versus post modern. At least the RWP’s believe in human intelligence, the progressive left are fully bereft, we have no agency, nihilistic sameness .

Alexander Solzhenitsyn warned us that the path we were on (are on) “will only be broken by the pitiless crowbar of events.”

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Some distinctions you elaborate about political beliefs and values (especially between libertarians vs RWP) including: proper aims of state; consequentialist beliefs; faith in rationality) illuminate, I think, the recent conflict in the covid-policy dissident community about the proper basis for condemning lockdown policies following Bret Weinstein's Tucker Carlson interview.

Weinstein is a well-known covid-policy-critical commentator. Following his interview some dissidents circulated his tweets showing he endorsed (for quite a long time) lockdown policies. He responded that he is now a critic of lockdown policies. Among dissidents a conflict arose related to the question of: What Precisely Was Wrong with State Lockdown Policies in 2020-2021? Two clear camps could be observed.

Lockdowns-Were-A-Technical-Mistake (this position was attributed to B Weinstein).

These dissidents argue that what went wrong was the quality of the policymaking processes. That is, they argue the policy processes were poor, in, among other things, that they omitted consideration of important social costs from school closure, business closure, nursing home policies excluding families from seeing loved ones, etc. They want us to avoid such disasters in future by improving the technical quality of policy processes.


These dissidents argue that what went wrong was that state actors (public officials) possessed and used power to achieve a "health benefit" that would (according to them) only be achieved by deploying these repressive tools. These dissidents believe the only way to avoid such disasters in future is to alter state structures and processes so that public officials do not have the power to deploy such policies (irrespective of how much health benefit they calculate they can produce for society). I think many in this camp would argue that the lockdown policies were immoral because they deprived individuals of the latitude to determine how they would deal with the risks deriving from the circulation of a novel virus.

NB. I don't mean to suggest Weinstein is rightwing tho. I doubt he would claim such a label.

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I appreciate your clarification of left-wing and right-wing, but I still wish we could get rid of it altogether. Most idea have no idea how to apply it properly, so it ultimately takes away more than it gives in any conversation.

Where people sat during the French Revolution isn't a useful sorting mechanism today. At all.

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What precisely is the inherent tension between the RWP and the true conservative if as you say, the latter would agree exploring the stars would be “cool” and the former could agree that there are some core human values and needs worth conserving? I believe a fair number of RWPs would agree that things like community, truth, morality, family etc are fundamental goods.

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When you say "restrained vision" you mean "constrained vision", right? This is Sowell's concept which I think is still the closest to reality and better than the egalitarian/hierarchical concept.

The idea that the left is defined by lack of or disgust towards hierarchy is not true, in my view. The left loves hierarchy:

- In the 20th century they didn't want truly collective ownership (anarchism) but rather state ownership of all things. The state is inherently hierarchical.

- In the 21st century they don't want racial or sexual equality, they want a hierarchy of oppression in which straight white men are worse than gay white men, who are worse than white women, who are worse than black women.

It is if anything the RWPs who (despite MA's manifesto) do not seek hierarchy. They may recognise openly that there are differences between people and things, but this is merely recognition and not a statement of how things should be.

Sowell's analysis is closer to the mark: people with the unconstrained vision (the left) believe in a wide span of human nature, in which some people are further along the path to perfection than others. People with the constrained vision believe the span of human nature is narrow, and thus that there aren't big differences in quality nor potential between people. Sowell has demonstrated convincingly that every other difference flows from this one, which is why in practice people still talk about the left vs right: it is indeed a one dimensional difference.

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ironic that the woke left is powered largely by the tech inventions and capitulations of the RWPs. Twitter networked them and Google filters for them.

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Lots of connections here to Eastern Orthodox theology, which never fully adopted the dualism of Plato of the rationalism of Aristotle. These were imported to Roman Catholicism by Augustine and Aquinas and the rationalism only intensified with the Reformation's focus on the written word ("sola scriptura") over personal experience. The idea of theosis, still preserved in the East, was completely lost post 1517 in the West.

There's a great book called The Unintended Reformation by Brad Gregory that chronicles the rise of nominalism and rationalism in the West. If you can get through it, Iain McGilchrist's work on this is also remarkable. Dense though -- I'll be honest, I haven't successfully tackled Matter With Things yet. Brad Gregory is a lot easier to read.

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The brutal fact of human existence is that each individual life is bracketed in time by an abyss. For most human societies across all our history this inescapable and foundational truth has operated as an attentional guide rail: being finite, each must confront the goodness - or lack thereof - of his particular individual life. No philosophical sophistication is required to sense that this confrontation has a fundamentally ethical character; is my life fulfilling its moral possibility? One does not need to believe in God or define God or believe your or anyone else's definition of God to experience the weight of this responsibility. The mature parts in each of us confront this responsibility every day. The immature parts of us will do anything to look away.

Although I am far from a progressive, there is much to admire about progressivism. It attacks the ossified complacency of the social systems in which it appears. It insists on asking: who is suffering unnecessarily? It is restless; it forces us to look at the gaps. But as an answer to the individual moral challenge of living a good life neither Right-Wing nor Left-Wing Progressivism addresses the individual's terrible burden: you can no more make yourself good, kind or decent by adopting a policy stance than you can buy your way out of purgatory with a credit card. Neither sending men to Mars and beyond nor sawing off the long legs of the privileged answers the terrible moral questions of today, of right now, in our conduct with our fellows.

Kudos once again to N.S. Lyons for this sobering reminder of what it means to be human.

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wow. after reading Andressons manifesto, with all of it’s inherent contradictions, my first reaction was: “like Marxism, only a really smart person could believe something so stupid”.

after the disasters of the 20th century, and especially in light of the current failures of Liberalism in the 21st century, it seems pretty clear to me that the only way we even have a decent future is to find some sort of balance between humanity, nature and technology. (by humanity, I am including things like religion, art human nature etc).

the genius of the founding fathers of the Constitution was in seeking a similar, legal balance between branches of governments as well an awareness of human nature. I realize that we are pretty far off from having a come to Jesus moment concerning this issue, but I think it’s high time for other public figures, intellectuals, writers etc to lay the groundwork going forward.

hopefully we can do that before, as in Dune, we must fight a holy jihad against the Machine Gods...

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"Certainly the general vision offered by the RWPs is still genuinely a much more attractive alternative to the dystopia offered by the Woke left"

It's a worse version of the same dystopia. Just instead of 67 genders, there will just be some single neutral sexless (and sensual-less) gender, artificial wombs, and state or corporate-run child upbringing according to rationalist principles. Plus eugenics. Plus the dictatorship of the techno elites.

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Another great article, thank you. I hope you explore hierarchy a little more. Which relates to class and class systems.

My personal bugaboo these days, something at first I noticed in personal experience and then gradually became aware through reading has been picked up by many and for well over a century (!) - is the way reductive materialism dominates most world views these days in both East and West. (China, for example, although very different in many ways, seems as materialist-driven as any growth-obsessed Western nation from the birth of the Industrial revolution up until today.)

The great irony about the materialist view is that not only does it regard all life as a mechanical, and therefore lifeless, process but also, under the guise of hard-headed realism above any mental or imaginary nonsense, essentially takes refuge in an abstract conceptual construct which is all materialism is. This worldview boils down to word salad - whose lettuce turns to mush when subjected to the heat of any genuine insight.

Which relates back to hierarchy and class. They can be discussed in abstract, marxist terms but the actual subject matter involves living, dynamic, human relationship. For example, there is no such thing as equality and those who try to impose it onto real, living people end up creating totalitarian tyranny. This is not an original insight by any means but it is surprising how few of the modern technocracts, including RWPs in your article, understand this. The excerpts from the manifesto at the top of the piece are very revealing. For such high IQ people who feel authorized to reconfigure Nature to their own superior purposes they are surprisingly ignorant of how nature, aka reality, works.

For equality is an abstraction too, of course. No two people are in the same place with the same form, perspective, thoughts and feelings; some are beautiful, some not; some are intellectually gifted, others not; some are large and strong, others not; some enjoy high social status, others not and so on ad infinitum. One of the most universal perceptions all humans share is the immediate evaluation of everybody else's relative status or particular qualities which set them apart. Class systems are not abstractions imposed from above or outside or fashioned from abstract theory - though some no doubt tinker - rather a matrix of living, dynamic human relationships most of which arise naturally from human nature itself, be they in small tribes in the Amazon telling stories around the fire at night or in large complex urban societies gazing at flickering screens as they elbow their way through streaming crowds on streets and subways on their way to work.

Any attempt to eliminate hierarchy-class is fool's gold. It is an under-appreciated element in all societies. More importantly, perhaps, any attempt to steer humanity's course following a chart composed of concept-driven abstraction is doomed to founder on the rocks of reality, who can be a hard mistress!

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This is a great analysis.

One thing I would note is that while I think the overall thrust is well formed, it seems to me that though the sources of nihilism are pervasive and numerous in our current culture, one of the largest contributors is that we do not have a frontier currently. There is nothing left to find, no more wilderness to chart and tame. The proportion of the society that would even WISH to engage in such an endeavor is perhaps smaller than ever, but it has serious downstream effects. The expansion into space will seriously, perhaps even permanently, remove these constraints on the human spirit. The other problems may remain, but I think its a vital step, especially if we must go on having progress as the polestar whether we like it or not

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