In this post, I think alongside Moldbug’s old essay in an attempt to clarify his dense piece on the relationship between being a generalist and having a stable mind.
Here is a key paragraph from Moldbug’s essay:
One way to be a generalist is to have—or at least asymptotically approach—what I call a “stable mind.” A stable mind is one that need not revise itself on receiving new information, defined as anything anyone else has ever known. (This is as opposed to a closed mind, which may need to revise itself—but doesn’t.)
When I first read this statement, I thought: that sounds dumb. But Moldbug is wiser than I when it comes to many things, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. We might suspect that Moldbug is encouraging us to be dogmatists–but he contrasts the stable mind with the closed mind, so he must be thinking of something else. Perhaps he has in mind the Heideggerian/Weberian notion of realizing you cannot rationally determine the best way of life; rather, you must, in full awareness of that fact, make a manly decision to resolutely follow the conviction or vocation that seems to call out to you, allowing you to live authentically. I think this is a little bit closer to what he has in mind, but it also isn’t right.
(related digression: one quickly realizes while reading Moldbug’s corpus that while he is brilliant in many respects, he is NOT manly. Compare Moldbug’s “Formalist Manifesto” essay’s point that violence is the key problem to rid ourselves of with the piratical paean at the end of Bronze Age Mindset–I still haven’t made up my mind as to which of these futures is more likely or worth fighting for…or if I should follow Moldbug’s general injunction: is any of this true?).
Let’s get some more text on the table:
For example, suppose some awful computer error granted me an infinite security clearance, and I could read all the secret files of the United States. Worse, suppose I had infinite time to do it in. Suppose I could even read George W. Bush’s mind. Would my opinion of the entire circus that is Washington, DC change? I’m probably wrong, but I’d like to think not.
Or suppose, like Stendhal, I could join the Grand Army on the retreat from Moscow. Due perhaps to some ingenious time machine. Would this alter my opinion of the human condition? Suppose I then worked as a taxi driver in present-day Cairo, went straight from there to the Reichsbank in 1936 where I was private secretary to Hjalmar Schacht, hauled nets on a shrimp boat out of Galveston in the fifties, served as a district officer in the ICS under Lord Lytton, studied Byzantine law in Constantinople sometime in the late 1200s, ran the catering for Mansa Musa’s hajj in 1324, apprenticed as a goldsmith in 18th-century Salonica, learned poetry from Yvor Winters in 1967, and fought as a captain in the Rhodesian SAS for most of the late ’70s?
One would be well within their rights to still be confused here. That is, on the face of it, Moldy seems to be saying the person of stable mind can’t really learn anything more. That would seem to be a ridiculous claim. How could one not learn from the diverse situations he brings before our eyes? Don’t we, if we approach each situation with the correct disposition, stand to learn a great deal? We see different human types respond and act in different situations, and we weigh with our judgment whether these deeds were good or bad, beautiful or ugly, just or unjust? We hone our judgement through increased experience.
Perhaps a better question we can ask to make sense of Moldbug’s thought here is: what kind of person would be equally at home in a taxi in Cairo a few years before the so-called Arab Spring, and as a secretary for a man who was a banker (Hjalmar Schact) in both the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany, who was put in concentration camps and tried in the Nuremburg trials? The Galveston example is striking as well. In the 1950’s the Texas Rangers were dispatched to the island to (violently) break up two of the main sources of income: gambling and prostitution. This meant that catching shrimp and fish became the core financial way forward, but it proved to be insufficient to power the community. The man who shrimps under such circumstances will have to be unfazed by serving in the Imperial Civil Service in India with a warrior poet and able not to be bored to death by studying the arcane subtleties of Byzantine law. Finally this man needs to be ready to make food for the man who might have been the richest in the history of the world (Mansa Musa), (I couldn’t track info on what the goldsmith here is doing), able to learn poetry from a guy who shit all over bad poetry, and be a part of Ian Smith’s exciting, defiant, but ultimately failed colonial adventure?
I don’t think that Moldbug is calling upon us to be a jack of all trades; we shouldn’t suddenly become dilettantes so that we are prepared to be spirited away to vastly circumstances. Perhaps another quotation will give us the clue we need:
Obviously, I have not had any of these experiences and, barring some really impressive videogame technology, am unlikely to have anything like them. However, I’d like to think that if this were not the case, adding them to my present fund of experience would not change much (and need not change much) of how I see the world.
It is time to stop spilling text onto the table–we must take a stab at what Moldy really means! The generalist with a stable mind is the kind of person who has reconciled himself to the world as it is. When thrust into a new situation, he does not churlishly wail about how he wishes it could be otherwise. Rather, he does all that he can do to make his situation better. His thoughts are not trapped in an embarrassingly tiny Overton bubble. He sees that there is an incredibly rich and diverse panoply of possibilities that confront human life. He knows that 200 years is not a long time and that 200 miles is not a long distance. He knows that each political community is incomplete or hobbled by problems and yet he still knows that some are better than others. He knows that reality is so complex and interesting that no political community will be able to tell the whole truth about the way things are–for, most people probably cannot bear the whole truth anyway. And he would have met enough of the various human types in real life and through literature and history that he wouldn’t be surprised by anything he finds. For, he understands, at least to an extent, why different people want they want, and do what they do.
This last part about surprise is for Moldbug a key to understanding the man of stable mind:
There is a feeling you sometimes get off people who, not at present but in the way past, used to be extremely heavy stoners. Serious connoisseurs of mind-altering everything. And who have since given it up for mere reality—but still, you feel, if they were walking down the street and a Triceratops suddenly materialized in front of them, they would remark, “oh, a Triceratops.”
And do, I don’t know, whatever you do when you have to deal with a Triceratops. Fend it off with a stick or something. But the point of being a generalist is this: that you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like being surprised. So you try and order your surprises in advance.
How many people were surprised, for example, when the Soviet Union collapsed? I would say this event and its aftermath changed a lot of peoples’ minds in quite unexpected ways. Especially if said people lived in the Soviet Union.
It isn’t clear to me why he chooses the example of a stoner here. One way to make sense of it: to those who do not have stable minds, the man of stable mind must seem like he was on drugs. The example of the Triceratops looks extreme; however, based on the way that some Americans viewed the 2016 election, it was almost like Trump was a Triceratops and anyone who was indifferent to or welcoming of Trump must have a drug addled mind. The man of sound mind has a richer political sensibility that looks alien and unhealthy to the man with a closed mind.
It may be that Moldbug’s new Clear Pill series is designed to prepare us to have stable minds. By attempting to neutralize our attachment to progressivism, constitutionalism, and fascism, he releases us from questions that each ideology does not let us ask; and he also prepares us to look in new (or old) directions for guidance, or to get as close as we can to seeing reality as it is, unfiltered. To what end, I do not yet know.