The Cruel Joke that Never Ends

“Whole worlds can be fake, yet carry on.”

Curtis Yarvin, née Mencius Moldbug, “2020, the year of everything fake” (Dec. 28, 2020)*

To understand Yarvin’s proposition, you must first understand that a “world” can be fake while containing any number of things that are not.  A “world” is an interpretation of things, and an interpretation can be false while the things interpreted are entirely true.  We see this in the phrase “my world fell to pieces,” and we see it more memorably in the experience that phrase describes.  “My world” that fell to pieces was my false and fanciful arrangement of those pieces.  “My world” was a misinterpretation of those facts.

If your world has ever fallen to pieces, you no doubt afterwards uttered the rueful words, “I should have known.”  Say, for instance, you misinterpreted the facts of your marriage, and believed you had a happy marriage, until the day your spouse announced that it had been, for your spouse, a living hell alleviated by nothing but adultery, mockery, and surreptitious swigs from a hidden bottle of hooch.  Looking back, you would no doubt utter the rueful words, “I should have known,” and those words would contain two valuable admissions:

  • You did not want to know, and you therefore
  • Swept disconfirming evidence under the rug.

A recently abandoned woman once told me that she sometimes smelled other women on her husband when he climbed into bed, but that she did not want to know what this meant and so swept it under the rug.  I had dinner with that couple not long before their divorce, and I did not have to sniff the husband’s underwear to know that their happy home was a fake that was about to fall to pieces.

“Our world will carry on. Maybe we will forget, probably we will forget, the level of fakeness it showed us here.”

This past year was the year hubby not only fell into bed smelling like other women, but actually left the motel bill on the bureau and the condoms in the pocket of his jeans.  This means we are going to get gaslighted good and hard now, and that we may by next year really doubt that was a motel bill, and really believe he was only holding those condoms for a friend. 

Never forget that we do not want to know the truth and are therefore willing accomplices in our own deception.

The 2020 election was not a fake election so much as an election in which the fundamental fakery of elections showed through.  “Our democracy” rolled into bed with an especially funky reek about it, whispering “sorry to wake you, honey, go back to sleep.”  It will probably make us breakfast tomorrow morning.  It will certainly say it is worried about us walking in our sleep. 

The Covid pandemic was not a fake pandemic so much as a pandemic in which the fundamental fakery of public policy showed through.  Appearing to do something was at least as important as doing something, since it is for the moment obvious that at least half of the mandated antics have been nothing but Covid theater.

Many murders have been faked to look like natural deaths, but George Floyd’s was a natural death that was faked to look like murder.

For a moment, one wonders how much of our world is like our pointless cloth masks, which we absolutely must wear, but are free to wear entirely under our chins.  For a moment one realizes that sprayed on yoga pants are fake clothes, and then one forgets.  For a moment one sees those masks as a metaphor for fake diplomas, which absolutely must be earned, but may be earned in any way you like. 

And then one forgets.

 “Probably we will even become completely inured to it. This is the way things work in the Third World, where no one but a stone cold fool takes the world seriously.

Humans are hypocrites by nature.  We pretend for profit.  We pretend for pleasure.  We pretend out of sheer perversity.  But it takes a world of shameless fakery to make most people into completely shameless fakes.  If the appearance of a free and fair election is more important than a free and fair election, does it not follow that my appearing as a good citizen is more important than my being a good citizen?  Democracy is just theater.  I am just an actor in this ludicrous play.  If the appearance of public sanitation is more important than public sanitation, does it not follow that my appearing sanitary is more important than my being sanitary?  I adjust my mask knowing that I have a minor part in a vaudeville extravaganza called the Covid Follies.

And if a natural death can be spun as a murder, does it not follow that a murder can be spun as a natural death?

“Of course, this only means the “world” of the shared narrative your society lives in.”

The narrative our society lives in is that we are progressing towards a better world governed by “Democracy,” “Science,” and “Justice.”  Last year taught us that this narrative is fake, but that the penalties for failure to play along with this narrative are very, very real. The allusion is more than a little shopworn, but this year Toto pulled back the curtain and the Great and Powerful Oz pumped out more smoke and thunder than ever.

And we for the most part played the role of the Cowardly Lion.

“ The two things that you can still take seriously are physical and historical reality. But you know nothing about the real present and past—because you can only experience reality through narrative, and you have no access to any narrative of present and past which is consistently connected to reality. You have nothing to trust.”

With all due respect to Yarvin, I must here say, speak for yourself.  I believe I have at least some access to a narrative of present and past which is in many places, if not perhaps consistently, connected to reality.  All the same, I take his point.  There is what I call a nausea of disillusionment.  Our world falls apart when find we have been lied to, but so does our ability, thereafter, to believe in anything but a fake world.  Another way of putting this is that, once you find you have been played for a fool, you will never overcome the suspicion that you are still being played, only this time for a bigger fool.  You will never fully recover from the nauseating fear that everything is a cruel joke, and that the butt of the joke is you.

*) Yarvin’s essay seems to have been published as an email message.  I read it here.

24 thoughts on “The Cruel Joke that Never Ends

  1. “World” has a poignant etymology. It is a compound construction whose first element is the Germanic wer and whose second element is the Germanic oldr. A wer (related to the Latin vir) is a fully mature male of the species with affiliation to the aristocracy and both skilled and experienced in combat. Oldr refers to the lifespan of such a being and especially to its temporal cumulus. A world, then, is the memorious first-person summation of such a man as — perhaps in his last moment — he looks back on his life and grasps it in its causal totality.

  2. Pingback: The Cruel Joke that Never Ends | Reaction Times

  3. I used to correspond a bit with CY in the late 2000s and found his MM blog useful in preparing me for conversion to Christianity. For that I am grateful. At that time CY was apparently (I inferred from several comments – some public, some by e-mail) also considering converting to Christianity (he seemed most attracted by SSPX); but although he was on that ‘path’ it never happened. I regard this as a failure of nerve; and the adverse consequences on his writing have been very, very obvious. He has fallen back considerably, into a corrupt and narrowly technocratic perspective; and now has nothing of interest to say to me. This pretentious mess of an article being an example.

    • His articles are a long tease, and in the end fail to deliver what they promise. He was an apostle of disillusionment and spread the news that the official “narrative” was a sham, but the alternative he offers is, as you say, narrowly technocratic. A lot of neo-reactionaries are building their houses on the same sand as the people they have supposedly repudiated.

    • I wonder if this is because Curtis Yarvin is a computer technologist. All of the most intelligent computer technologists I know are entirely materialistic and technocratic in their world-view – I think if you work in software, in the world of code and data, where you can think and make it *so*, you may feel like you have the power of creation. Consequentially, it must be difficult to resist the pull of a materialistic, human-centred world-view, and harder the more talented you are.

      • We should make them work with ornery animals, or perhaps build something out of hard stone. I think you are right that the limitless mailability of bits and pixels encourages delusions of omnipotence.

      • I think it is a special form of engineer’s disease. That’s the assumption that since everything is basically engineering and I’m a good engineer, I’m good at everything.
        Silicon valley is warning about the dangers of AI which is their conceit about how powerful they are. The admission from silicon valley of bankruptcy of evolution is the popularity of the living in a simulation idea. But of course rather than bending the knee to their creator, it is just another chance to declare software engineers as gods
        I’m a retired software engineer so I know the pitfall well. For me the realization the DNA is software written by a much greater programmer than any human or especially blind chance made me a young earth creationist. My views are more like Joel Salatin’s book The Marvellous Pigness of Pigs.

    • The main flaw that I see in Yarvin’s worldview is relativism. His concept of human flourishing is one not dependent on objective truth or a fixed human nature. As can be seen in his “virtual option” or more recently his prescriptions for governing different kinds of people.
      I don’t see how he can be described as a technocrat. Two of his main themes are that rule by experts is harmful and that human welfare cannot be measured numerically.

    • Well said. You could see the pride getting to him near the end of his blogging days, when all of these absurd and obnoxious copycats sprang up. I read one of his more recent essays. He still has gift for metaphor and humor. He also played a role in my own conversion.

  4. It occurs to me that it’s a curious subset of materialists, who live in “worlds” consisting of ideas and views, so much so that they don’t notice the created material world that goes on being its true and authentic self, and gives us seasons of the year, birds and ocean tides. These materialists need to learn a fuller materialism, and your recommendation that they engage with hard and ornery physical things would be a good starting place.

    • They represent the triumph of theory over reality. There’s a lot of that about nowadays. People who think they can do better than God.

    • I agree with your point, but am happy to give them the word material. In addition to denoting mere matter, the word material detonates matter assembled for a human project, as when I assemble the material to build a dog house. If I look at a tree and see it is something other than material for, say, a dog house, I see that tree as a creature. When we see world of creatures with their own ends is a created world. In my view, Creationism is not so much a theory about the origins of the universe as it is a way of seeing the universe right now. A Materialist sees the universe as a cosmic lumber yard filled with material that can be shaped by human purposes. A Creationist sees the universe as a cosmos of creatures that have purposes of their own.

  5. CY is disgusted by the inability of Western governments to control their people. I, on the other, hand, was shocked to discover how powerful our governments really are. After all, the whole year before we had been lectured on how it is completely impossible for the federal government to control the inflow of Central Americans. It turns out that state governments, though, can lock down their entire populations. The difference, I would say, is not that state governments are more powerful than the federal government, but that the media is the true source of legitimacy, and the true object of servile fear, and any government agency that does its will finds itself able to do so. Yarvin’s argument that if you want to beat a virus you have to go full communist totalitarian may unfortunately be true and is likely the lesson the world will learn. People emulate wealth and power, and few now doubt communist China’s ascendancy over the rest of the world. Perhaps I shouldn’t care. What does it matter, which anti-Christian, anti-white power is dominant?

    • U.S. victory in the Cold War supposedly demonstrated the superiority of a self-organizing system over a system of centralized control. That contest occurred in a radically different technological environment. I’m also inclined to think that the Asian personality is better adapted to thrive in our universal bureaucracy of unmitigated tedium. We have entered a golden age for organizations and organization men, which means an iron age for a disorganization man like me.

  6. Reminds me of this: “The rules are simple: they lie to us, we know they’re lying, they know we know they’re lying, but they keep lying to us, and we keep pretending to believe them.”
    ― Elena Gorokhova, A Mountain of Crumbs
    If we deny Truth then all that remains is Power. Thus, the ends can justify the means. This seems to be the nihilistic trajectory of both political parties in the US. Both seem quite content to believe “useful” falsehoods.
    Have we learned nothing from the 20thc? While history may not repeat, it certainly rhymes. Unfortunately, these trends portend similar levels of violence as last century.

    • You probably know the old gag. “Is he lying?” “Are his lips moving?” “He’s lying.” This is probably true of most people most of the time. From which it follows “Am I lying?” “Are my lips moving?” “I’m lying.” I remember a line from Screwtape Letters that described a man as “brave until it became risky.” I wonder if I am honest until it becomes awkward, or expensive. I think of myself as an honest man who hates lies. But then I wonder if that is just the lie I love best of all.

  7. Great article, Prof. Smith! I remember Moldbug from way back in my VFR days. He and I could never quite see eye to eye back then; I seem to recall that the reason we disagreed, according to him, was that I was simply too much a simpleton in his view. He was probably right; I never denied it in any case, as I recall.

  8. I used to correspond with CY, and by my understanding (in the late 2000s) he was on a path towards Christianity (perhaps SSPX), but instead went back.

    At any rate, he fails several litmus test issues (sexual revolution, Birdemic), and consequently (because one unrepented sin leads to another) ended-up on the Other side: more and more obviously as time passes.

    His work now strikes me as wholly mainstream, and of no interest at all.

    • I’m going to put on my professional geographer’s hat and push the “mainstream” metaphor a little. When we speak of the “mainstream media,” we imply that there is one dominant channel of opinion, and also some number of backwaters and branching side streams. But most backwaters are stagnant swamps and most branching side streams run only when the river overflows its banks. What is true of real rivers is often true of the metaphorical river of media. The mainstream may be a stinking and polluted flood on which the bloated bodies of drowned cattle are floating, but in this case the backwaters and side streams will be worse. My point is that the problem is not the “mainstream” but the river itself, and that many writers who boast of being “out of the mainstream” are actually worse than the mainstream because their backwater is a stagnant swamp from which the bloated bodies of drowned cattle are never washed away. I think this roughly describes the position of technocratic dissidents from the technocracy.

      Most rivers have a dominant or main channel because the current in this channel is strong enough to carry off silt and cut a slightly lower channel. Water flows to the lowest channel, amplifies the current in that channel, and thus maintains the dominance of that channel. When the mainstream is flooded, the mainstream feeds water into the backwaters and side streams, but in low water the backwaters and side streams become tributaries of the mainstream. I think gives food for thought to the metaphor-minded.

      Finally, a river with a very high sediment load will not form a mainstream because all channels are equally incapable of clearing themselves of silt (or gravel), and therefore of lowering their channel and making their rivals their tributaries. One often sees these “braided streams” in mountains, where the sediment load is very high. The metaphor that describes today’s media environment is a river that is evolving into a “braided stream” because no channel can clear its sediment load of lies. The “mainstream” struggles to remain the main stream, but daily becomes more silted with sandbars of mendacity. The water therefore backs up and spills into backwaters and side streams, further diminishing the ability of the main stream to clear its channel, but at the same time flushing out those stagnant backwaters and reviving those intermittent side streams.

      For writers like us, the silting of the mainstream is great news because it is much better to be a running channel in a braided stream than it is to be a stagnant backwater.

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