Foundation and the Future

You can't really call yourself a big fan of sci-fi until and unless you have read Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. During his lifetime, Asimov wrote 7 books in the series, starting with the original Foundation and continuing on through to Forward the Foundation!. The series really started as a bunch of related short stories cobbled together into a coherent narrative, but eventually became the books for which Asimov will always be remembered, for this is the universe that he created, and as far as I'm aware, almost all of his other works of fiction tied into it at some point or another.

Foundation

The plot of the Foundation series is simple but compelling. Basically, a brilliant mathematician named Hari Seldon develops a branch of mathematics called psychohistory which uses powerful concepts in mathematics, psychology, and history to come up with incredibly precise and accurate predictions about the future of Mankind. While psychohistory cannot predict the future of any one individual with any accuracy at all over any time horizon, it can predict the outcome of a teeming mass of humans over long time horizons with astounding precision; the analogy given in the very first book relates to individual atoms of gas, whose path cannot be predicted with any certainty, compared to a large mass of gas, where the future state of that gas can be predicted with considerable accuracy given certain state variables.

Seldon's psychohistory is created in the dying days of the great interstellar Empire, which has ruled over mankind's destiny for at least 10,000 years and has created the greatest and most enlightened civilisation ever seen in human history. The days of Mankind's time on Earth have long been forgotten; no one even knows where humanity originated, and no one can even countenance the idea that someday, the Empire will no longer exist. Hari Seldon, however, sees the coming downfall with perfect clarity, and publicises his findings, for which he is brought to trial and subsequently exiled. His research shows that the Empire will fall, and that its fall will bring forth an interregnum period of barbarism and destruction that will last for thirty thousand years. Seldon's Plan is to establish two Foundations- one at Terminus, far in the Galaxy's rim, and one at "Star's End"- which will over time lead and eventually unify humanity once again into a great Second Empire after a period of only 1,000 years of anarchy and chaos.

Economics and Psychohistory

Part of the reason I find the Foundation series to be so fascinating lies in the fact that Asimov was able to create a plausible pseudoscience like psychohistory out of theoretical concepts pulled from mathematics, economics, psychology, and history. He actually managed to make it sound convincing when I read these books way back in high school. In fact there was a time when I thought that you could actually predict the course of human history using such a blend of mathematics and economics. (Yeah. Let's just say I've been wrong about a few things in my life. I know better now.)

Years later, I have discovered a few things that should be obvious to anyone who knows anything about economics:
  • Mathematics is an elegant, beautiful language of power and precision. It deals with things that can be proved (well OK, now we're getting into Godel Incompleteness Theorem territory, but let's keep things simple for now). It deals in both the concrete and the abstract because it starts with axiomatic principles and derives everything from them; but when applied to human interactions, the precision of mathematics rapidly breaks down over any time horizon, because humans are anything but axiomatic except in the most general sense (e.g. the Axiom of Human Action).
  • Economics is a messy language grounded in logic that deals with highly unpredictable entities- humans. Using the axiomatic, rational language of mathematics to deal with that which is not rational or axiomatic is by definition crazy. It is not for nothing that someone once said, "Mathematics brought rigour to economics; unfortunately, it also brought mortis".
  • Psychology is neither precise nor axiomatic; combining it with mathematics to try to achieve predictive power is flat-out absurd.
Unfortunately, there is at least one prominent mainstream "economist" who thinks that modern economics can provide the kind of predictive power in real life that psychohistory provided in fiction:
I know that sounds like a strange claim to make when the actual management of the economy has been a total disaster. But hey, Hari Seldon didn't do his work by convincing the emperor to change his policies – he had to conceal his project under a false front and wait a thousand years for results. Now, there isn't, to my knowledge, a secret cabal of economists with a thousand-year plan to save our current civilisation (but then I wouldn't tell you if there was, would I?). But I've been struck these past several years by just how much power good economics has to make correct predictions that are very much at odds with popular prejudices and "common sense".


To take a not at all arbitrary example, a standard macroeconomic approach, the IS-LM model (don't ask) told us that under depression-type conditions like those we're experiencing, some of the usual rules would cease to apply: trillion-dollar budget deficits wouldn't drive up interest rates, huge increases in the money supply wouldn't cause runaway inflation. Economists who took that model seriously back in, say, early 2009 were ridiculed and lambasted for making such counterintuitive assertions. But their predictions came true. So yes, it's possible to have social science with the power to predict events and, maybe, to lead to a better future.
That review of Krugman's continues on in this vein for some time, and it just gets more ridiculous. 

To those of you who actually have some idea of what an IS-LM model is, but don't know its flaws or its origins, his comments might sound intelligent. To those of you who, like me, not only know what the IS-LM model is but can actually derive it using calculus and then explain very quickly why it's a lot of nonsense, this is frankly hilarious.

Here is the reality: mainstream neoclassical economics has virtually zero predictive power. Mainstream economists failed to predict the disaster created by the debt-fuelled bubbles of the Nineties and the Noughties, primarily because those models do not and cannot explicitly incorporate debt into them. Nor is mainstream economics capable of making long-term predictions about the path of human society- in the 1970s, for instance, several mainstream economists, such as MIT's Lester Thurow, and the granddaddy of neoclassical economics himself, Paul Samuelson, were predicting outright that the Soviet method of planned economics and the Japanese method of protectionist, state-led capitalism were the ways of the future. Boy, were they ever wrong.

Also, economics is by definition and by nature blind to race and to human ideology. Even libertarian and Austrian economists cannot use Austrian economics to make race-specific predictions to show how different races achieve different economic outcomes and why.

Let me illustrate this with a simple example. Any time someone brings up the black question- quite simply, why is it that blacks lag so far behind in every possible indicator of human well-being and advancement?- the default answer from virtually any libertarian is pretty much, "herp derp free markets free people". All you have to do is read one of Walter Williams' columns to see this; it's an affliction that affects both black and white economists, even ones as talented and as knowledgeable as Williams and Thomas Sowell. Well, as Paul Kersey outlines in Escape From Detroit, Pittsburgh is one of the most liberal cities in the nation, and it's also probably the nicest place to live in. The reason that liberalism works in that city is because Pittsburgh is a very white city that has largely (until now) escaped the Black Undertow. (While that book is not very well written, and the editing is horrible, it is still worth reading- if only because it will make your liberal friends' heads explode.) Matt Forney has said similar things about Portland in the past. Simply saying that a free market is the best way to create economic productivity completely ignores the wide disparities between different cultures, different races, and different ideologies.

Bottom line: economics and mathematics alone cannot predict the future. Psychohistory, as outlined in the Foundation series, simply does not work when you take unpredictable human populations and try to shoehorn them into mathematically elegant and precise formulations.

r/K Selection Theory and Future Predictions

Enter evolutionary psychology- and in particular the heuristic theory we call r/K selection theory, which posits that biological dispositions in human populations, influenced by environmental factors, lead to long-term "cycles". I believe that these cycles can be predicted with some amount of accuracy- not perfect, but not terrible either. I have already outlined in a previous post something that I call the Grand Cycle. It is not, by any means, a unique or original idea; Vox Day has already outlined how socionomics uses historical "wave" patterns to achieve something similar, and my idea is simply my own way of expressing what I recognise as the patterns and cycles of human history, from ancient to modern times. What unites all of these theories together is a simple, basic understanding that humans are individually and collectively different, and that ideology is informs and is informed by the external environment.

(For the record: Elliott Wave Theory is not real science, nor is it a proven financial paradigm. It's a form of technical analysis that uses "wave" patterns, and being technical analysis, it isn't really scientifically sound. Of course by that logic neither is the Black-Scholes formula scientifically sound, but at least the latter has its grounding in some easily understandable assumptions rather than a lot of hand-waving. That said, I'm not knocking socionomics as an idea per se, since I'm a strong believer in the idea that history doesn't repeat but usually rhymes; I just don't think that you should take Elliott Wave Theory too seriously.)

The oscillation between r-selected and K-selected environments is simplistic, but it is a powerful predictive tool. As with any relatively simple binary heuristic, though, r/K selection theory leads to different conclusions among different people.

Most conservative or libertarian proponents of political r/K selection theory- Vox, A/C, Koanic Soul, The Observer, me- tend to be pretty optimistic that the future will be K-selected. It will have to be, given that all of us are united in the belief that an r-selected society will eventually collapse in on itself. Eventually K-selection will reassert itself, and that is the point where the cycle starts all over again. Where we disagree is on the timing of the collapse, not on the collapse itself. And that is where all of the predictive science in the world becomes damn near useless- none of it works in providing real, set timings.

For instance, A/C has an interesting take on the use of debt to increase the length of the current r-selection cycle:
There is one huge difference this time, and that is our use of public debt to increase resource availability and extend the period of r-selection. This has allowed for a slight increase in the population’s shift towards the r-psychology in this cycle, and lengthened the period of Unraveling. That all will increase the magnitude of the Crisis we will face. This would have been predictable, if you had viewed the increases in national debt which began around 1980 in the context of this work . The disturbing aspect of this is that when the collapse comes, the hardcore Left will be particularly loony, since their amygdalae have essentially no adaptation to a more free, competitive environment. Today, not having free government healthcare, and free cellphones is the same to them as being tossed into Lord of the Flies. When things get so bad that there is no food or housing, they will be capable of anything. The coming Crisis will be epic.
Well he's damn right about that. The only question is when it will happen.

In all honesty, I have no idea. I strongly suspect that we're looking at a drop-dead date of 2030 or so, based on demographics, indebtedness, and the increasing frequency of catastrophic monetary crises, but I don't know for sure. And that is the point of this post. You should never succumb to the temptation to believe the next big doomsday prophecy, and you should never believe that there is One Theory out there that will somehow provide perfect clairvoyance about the course of future events.

That being said, it is still possible to come to some intelligent and powerful conclusions about the future if you stick to some basic principles:
  • Start with a solid grounding in sound economic theory. That means Austrian economics, which breaks down economic interactions into a series of simple axioms, from which deductive logic can then provide simple yet powerful predictive models that show, in a priori fashion, the causes and effects of various economic phenomena.
  • Continue by reading into evolutionary psychology, and in particular into r/K selection theory, which will give you some real insight into how both liberals and conservatives think- and more importantly, why
  • Maintain a wide range of reading interests. Some of the most brilliant sci-fi I have ever read have helped me develop my own ideas about where and how future technology will influence modern society (I suspect that it will become more r-selected over time, right up to the next great collapse). I strongly recommend Charles Stross and his work in particular; others like David Weber, John Ringo, and Timothy Zahn are definitely worth reading also.
The Future is Dark

Asimov's psychohistory may have been a fanciful invention in a lot of ways, but he got one thing very right: the future will be bleak. Whether we're looking at an interregnum period of a millennium is beyond my abilities to predict- I strongly doubt it, but I do think we're in for at least two or three decades of serious suffering before the K-types reestablish order and prosperity. I do, however, think that we're looking at some very real nastiness coming up.

I've outlined already my belief that the next great Islamic expansion will soon come to a head in Europe. I don't know yet whether America will be able to turn back the coming Caliphate, but I seriously doubt it, given that when- not if- the American empire collapses, this nation will inevitably fracture along ideological, racial, and political lines into at least three different bodies, possibly four. (Full credit goes to Vox Day for that idea, so that we're clear.)

Asia is headed for a massive demographic crisis of its own. While conservative K-selection has informed and guided Asian society for decades, the current generation of leaders are more concerned with the preservation of power and the stability of society than they are with preparing their people for the turmoil to come. On top of this, China has a giant demographic time-bomb ticking away under it. As Mark Steyn once put it, China currently has 700 million very poor people; soon it will have over 400 million very old people. Its population pyramid will completely invert- it's already doing so right now, in fact. Japan and Singapore are facing the exact same problem. Australia is already being riven by the blessed fruits of "diversity".

Overall I'd say that Samuel Huntington was closest to getting it right out of everyone who's written on this subject. His idea of a clash of civilisations- although I really do hesitate to call Islam "civilised"- is the only paradigm that seems to jive with what we're seeing today. I've yet to read his book in its entirety, but all I can say is that if his views on Islam are anything like those of other informed historians on the subject, then we're in for a wild ride ahead.

As America retreats- and make no mistake, this nation was very much founded by K-selected groups- and r-selected political entities fill that void, the open question is how long it will take for K-selection to come back into force. I would estimate at least thirty to forty years- minimum two generations. If the final collapse itself takes place in the 2030s, that means we're looking at 2070, minimum, as the point by which K-selected politics and genetics will be noticeable once again. By that point, most contemporary Manospherians will be well into their dotage. And by that point, mankind will have been taught a lesson that we will likely remember in our very bones. Whether we pay attention to it or not, though, is an open question.

I can't predict the future with anything like the accuracy of a Hari Seldon. And I'm not even going to try. All I can say is, you probably won't like it. But it's coming. So be ready.

Comments

  1. I think the axiom that humans are rational (or at least rationalising) is outdated. I don't think Ludwig von Mises had to deal with the sheer stupidity of the modern 20-something college student. The axiom might have been true when Ludwig von Mises wrote Human action, but I would say that it's empirically false now. I don't think that Austrian economics can be utilised in an r-selected population group. Just as the Soviets couldn't plan an economy without price signals, individuals can't develop an effective economy when they think that life will always be good.

    The Manosphere is ahead of the curve on this one. The -sphere advocates masculine virtues, and all it will have to do is manifest itself in the real world when the collapse eventually happens.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What Mises said was that, quite simply, Man acts. Maybe not necessarily rationally, but definitely in order to improve his current situation. Action is preferable to inaction, since if it were not, Man would never act- yet he does. Man acts in his own self-interest, since that is his first real concern. He prefers leisure to work, however, and so will seek the course of action that is easiest in achieving his own ends. Nothing in this chain of logic is specific to r-selected societies versus K-selected societies. It's just that r-selected societies have come to prefer comfort to such a high degree over discomfort that they are incapable of recognising the massive discomfort that is to come from their own inaction, whereas K-selected societies, having generally lower time preferences, will recognise those signals and act accordingly.

      Moreover,the basic ideas of Austrian economics applies across cultures and populations. This is why r-selected societies like Muslim societies stagnate- because those societies, for all of their sexual conservatism and extreme militarism, are totally state-controlled and provide no flexibility or freedom for individual entrepreneurship. This is also why K-selected societies tend to work and then fail over time- I'll elaborate on this a bit more once I've finished reading this book called A War Like No Other.

      Delete

Post a Comment

NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. Anonymous comments will be deleted.

Popular Posts