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The Social-Imperial State
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This article can be adumbrated thusly: The default relationship between a state apparat and the territory it controls is a colonising one. It takes great effort to facilitate a more accountable relationship with the electorate on any state apparat.
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There is a comfortable contemporary fable of the Western state. It goes like this.
Once upon a time Western states were imperial states, conquering and colonising territories around the globe. Eventually they began to pay more attention to the needs of their own citizens, and so started becoming welfare states. Then, through losing wars/moral awakening, they gave up being imperial states and concentrated on being welfare states. This was a redemptive process, for while the imperial state is malign the welfare state is beneficent.
Strip away the moralising. Acknowledge that any state operating where citizens vote the government in or out (the welfare state) has far more accountability to its residents than is the case for those under imperial rule from a distant metropole. Look at the state as an apparatus of taxation, control and expenditure:
What we then see is a state apparat that has gone from colonising external territories to colonising its own core territories. A shift from a territorial-imperial state to a social-imperial state. I’m using the definition of empire or imperial below:
A political institution that refuses to accept or define limitations or boundaries to its spheres of sovereignty.
Inward imperialism accepts territorial limits, but not social limits. If one defines the role of the state as “doing good”—as the welfare state does—then there is no limit to its legitimate ambit, because there is always more good to do.
The claim that the (inwardly-colonising) welfare state is some profoundly different thing from the (outwardly-colonising) territorial-imperial state rests on greater levels of accountability.
There is more accountability in a liberal democracy, as far as accountability goes. But this is not as far as is typically claimed. Indeed, effective accountability has been in retreat as the welfare-state apparat colonisation of societies has expanded.
No system of accountability is infinitely elastic. The larger the welfare state, the weaker is effective accountability. A state apparat that expands in size and scope of action is a state apparat that pushes accountability mechanisms towards attenuation through overload. This problem is made worse by the evolution of techniques to evade accountability.
Moreover, accountability for the intent of policy and accountability for the effect of policy—for the efficiency and effectiveness of its delivery, for its cost and consequences—are very different.
Apparent accountability for declared intent is simple and easy. It’s even easier if you assess commitment to intent by the amount of spending year-on-year.
One of the congruences between the politics of the welfare state and the politics of the transformational future is they both engage in a common dance of intention, judging policy and actions by intention, not outcomes.* These intentions are taken to be justified in themselves.
But intentions do not determine outcomes. They don’t determine the efficiency of delivery. Even with entirely democratically-accountable intentions, there is considerable space for the state apparat to colonise society for its own benefit through inefficient delivery.
Moreover, determining consequences of well-intended expenditure is difficult. It often requires depth of knowledge, consideration of counterfactuals—what would have happened had this not been done—plus access to information that may be hard to get, unavailable, or obscured.
Considerable effort may also go to frustrating accountability for consequences. Beneficiaries of expenditure—and other government interventions—may seek to obscure costs, failings, and specific-group gains that go against expressed policy intent.
The value of democracy is in wide political bargaining and effective feedback. The capacity to put bargains into law (so making them robust, thus worthwhile) pushes the state apparat into implementing those political bargains in ways accountable to wider society. Democracy’s value does not rest on some perfect transmission of voter preferences that vary across time and among voters. No political system can deliver such a perfect transmission.
It’s a delusion to think that formal accountability structures and voting mean that the problems of accountability have been solved. The struggle to impose being-an-agent-of-the-wider-society on state apparats is endless. The incentive to minimise or avoid being-an-efficient-agent-of-the-wider-society never goes away.
Elected politicians often find themselves turning into mere intermediaries between the state apparat and the electorate than masters of the state apparat. Government ministers regularly find bureaucracies frustratingly slow and opaque: this is part of why they get called “The Blob”.
It’s also possible for people to use the formal accountability of political action as a weapon against non-state forms of social action. The “demon in democracy” problem—as Polish philosopher and Euro-MP Ryszard Legutko puts it—which is a problem of social imperialism.
The limitations of accountability make the state apparat an irresistible target for the politics of the transformational future and its activists. By practising what writercalls “the non-electoral politics of institutional capture”, they push political agendas that by-pass voters while at the same time using democracy’s formal structures as legitimating cover.
This strategy works even better if also pursued via international or supranational organisations. Much of the appeal of supranational and international organisations is precisely their ability to evade the constraints of democratic accountability and its local political bargaining. They colonise upwards while the welfare state colonises inwards and downwards. Both then feed into each other.
The EU is the most complete example of such upward colonising. “Ever closer union” is the claim that trumps democratic choice and justifies further feedback colonisation.
Dynamics of bureaucracy
Bureaucratisation—with its focus on tasks and processes, its poor information incentives, and its costs to outsiders—also leaches the vitality out of institutions and societies, making it harder to motivate and coordinate genuine accountability.
There is something of a pattern for administrative centralisation producing de-stabilising effects over time. These patterns are much stronger in autocracies, with their much weaker information flows and effective feedback. However, even in parliamentary states, a state apparat of sufficient size—particularly when linked to non-profits and corporate (HR) bureaucracies—generates the same tendencies.
A free society is not merely a collection of free individuals. It is a society, in philosopher Edmund Burke’s phrase, of ordered liberty.
A sufficiently pacified society is a society of much freer individuals: they have a much wider range of action. Accountable bureaucracy can greatly aid in the creation of such ordered liberty. However, turning administration into tasks and processes also, as I discussed in the previous essay, makes bureaucracy a flawed instrument.
Expansion of state activity—leading to expanded bureaucracy—can also create a problem where bureaucracy grows larger than the pool of available talent. This means bureaucrats finish up needing shields from the demands of competence. Moral projects justified by good intentions are a useful place to start. As I noted in the previous essay, diversity-inclusion-equity provides an excellent mechanism for shielding bureaucrats from the demands of competence. Any opposition to it can be dismissed as bigotry.
Dance of intention
Social psychologistrefers to the “epistemic industries”: media, online IT, academe, entertainment. These are industries of imaginings, not anchored in the physical world. They are subject to particularly weak reality tests.
These industries have become increasingly dominated by highly conformist sets of beliefs. The conformity is based around status markers—prestige opinions and luxury beliefs. This takes in required affirmations, not noticings and stigmatisation of wrongful noticing.
These industries are also very much both participants in a market for rationalisations. That is, pandering to in-group beliefs, prestige opinions, and luxury beliefs.
The combination generates powerful patterns of required affirmations and not noticing, and active disparaging of folk who wrongly notice. Taken together, this actively undermines modern Western societies’ ability to talk to and among themselves. In particular, they generate intense patterns of siloing: of simply not reading, or otherwise paying attention, to folk who don’t fit into desired patterns of in-group prestige opinions and luxury beliefs. Stigmatised noticings are used to police boundaries of acceptability.
The result is the active frustration of democratic accountability. This is especially so when it comes to accountability for policy consequences inconvenient for those prestige opinions and luxury beliefs.
All of the aforementioned tendencies are aggravated if the wider society has increased difficulty with publicly talking to itself.
This is further aggravated by the operation of vampire elites: folk that actively benefit from their ethno-racial confreres doing badly, because it gives them moral and social leverage. If you pay people to do what makes their access to resources go up, they then have incentive to block or frustrate policies likely to improve their ethno-racial confreres’s circumstances. When those confreres start doing as well as everyone else, the Vampire Elites’ moral and social leverage disappears.
We Homo sapiens are easily capable of levels of self-deception necessary to carry this off. When one has other folk with the same incentives and is insulated from error, one is positively rewarded for making certain sorts of errors.
The most complete, and influential, valorisation of the dance of intention and social imperialism comes from the work of Herbert Marcuse, especially his theory of repressive tolerance. It is a Jacobin model of politics—politics unlimited in means and scope—applied to discourse and political action. It claims to know the proper direction of history and has the effect of de-legitimating any electoral choice that goes against said direction.
So, violence motivated by the politics of the transformational future is to be tolerated. Any violence against it (even in self-defence) is not. Hence the difference between the “mostly peaceful” BLM riots and media treatment of Kyle Rittenhouse.
To be engaged in the politics of the transformational future gives one dominating moral authority, authority that extends to the right to ignore or censor others. Conversely, resisting politics of the transformational future strips one of the moral authority to speak.
With feminisation, this epistemic tyranny—rightful domination by the knowing—means maintaining good feels gives you authority to censor others, while displaying bad feels strips you of the authority to speak or participate.
So we have rightful domination by emotionally-validated knowing. It should be no surprise that the epistemic industries tend to favour the politics of epistemic tyranny.
Bureaucracy’s inherent tendency to hoard authority and to seek self-validating moral projects makes various derivations of the Marcusian moral hierarchy attractive to bureaucracies: whether government, non-profit or corporate.
The easy dominance in public discourse of expressed policy intention and increased barriers to accountability for policy effectiveness leaves considerable scope for the state apparat to develop into a social-imperial state, to be an internally-colonising state. The policy dysfunction that is official nutrition guidelines throughout the developed world provides a case study in this colonising of social pathology.
Colonising metabolic ill-health
The transition to farming was something of a disaster for human metabolic health. Farming only won over the foraging diet to which we were much better adapted because more food => more babies. Demography tends to be destiny. The one thing absolutely needed to win the future is to show up for it.
Across hundreds of generations, farming populations adapted to their new diet. Nevertheless—even hundreds of generations later—consuming a farming diet makes it easier to get fatter and experience more metabolic dysfunctional as you get older. This is something that does not happen to foragers, who consume diets to which we’ve had far longer to adapt. Our adaptations to the farming diet tends to wear off as we age.
Why is the metabolic health of contemporary populations, as shown by increasing rates of obesity and chronic disease (notably diabetes), declining? Because—as with the Neolithic transition to farming—we have shifted to a (processed food) diet to which we are not adapted.
In the case of Australia’s indigenous Aborigines, we see a people going through both the farming and the processed food transitions at once. This has led to spectacularly poor metabolic health. When they return to their ancestral diet—what they ate before colonisation—their metabolic health improves greatly.
Why have public health authorities not noticed these patterns? Because, while they’re officially paid to improve public health, they are functionally paid to colonise ill-health. They get more resources the worse the general public’s metabolic health becomes. They succeed, in resource terms, by failing in human-flourishing terms.
While mandating consilience with the anthropogenic sciences in the composition of official nutrition guidelines would lead to much better nutrition guidelines, it’s an open question as to whether there should be any guidelines at all.
Regulation always runs into information problems: working out what the effect of the regulations will be, including how people respond to them. Regulations are also prone to gaming by organised interest groups.
In the case of nutrition guidelines, we not only have the problem of government bureaucracies being paid in ways that encourage colonising of population-wide ill-health. We also have large corporations whose profit-maximising incentive is to game our taste buds by maximising the taste hit—to the point of encouraging “carb addiction”—with cheap content. Our taste buds, remember, are not adapted to the industrial production of processed food.
Not only does this not favour metabolically-healthy nutrition, it actually disfavours it, as the biggest taste hit with the least nutrition generates repeated consumption of the food-product. Such corporations clearly have a massive financial incentive to game nutrition guidelines and associated regulations, particularly regulatory drafting.
Then there are all the vegans and vegetarians who moralise their food. This is a serious issue when it comes to the Seventh Day Adventist Church: it’s engaged in a century-and-a-half of Health Evangelism promoting its “Garden of Eden” diet. Over time, it built up Church schools, hospitals and networks of medical professionals to back its claims.
The SDA Church also owns one large food corporation—Sanitarium—and dominates another (Kelloggs). This is a form of the Baptists and Bootleggers phenomenon, except here the regulatory “Baptists” are also processed-food “Bootleggers”.
Given all these pressures, the chances that official nutrition guidelines will settle on a stable equilibrium of promoting human flourishing is pretty remote. As it is, the US nutrition guidelines—which enable public health to colonise the US populace’s metabolic ill-health—are currently undermining the national security of the United States.
Not only is the US armed forces’ pool of sufficiently healthy recruits shrinking. The requirement that what is fed to service personnel conform to the official nutrition guidelines is (predictably) generating increasing metabolic dysfunction, including obesity issues, within the US armed forces.
Medical professionals are generally not reliable counters to these trends. Medical training typically includes neither human evolutionary history, nor the evolution of our nutrition, or even much about nutrition at all. This is the equivalent of training motor mechanics by briefly noting that petrol is something cars use but otherwise ignoring the matter.
The shift within medical training from focusing on basic science (i.e., causal processes) to epidemiology (torturing the data to identify striking associations) has not helped.
These are not small matters, as the following experience with a series of doctors shows:
Two years into my veganhood, my health failed, and it failed catastrophically. I developed a degenerative joint disease that I will have for the rest of my life. It started that spring as a strange, dull ache deep in a place I didn’t know could have sensation. By the end of the summer, it felt like shrapnel in my spine. There followed years of ever increasing pain and ever more frustrating visits to specialists. It took fifteen years to get a diagnosis instead of a pat on the head. Teenagers’ spines don’t fall apart for no reason and so, despite my perfect symptom description, none of the doctors considered Degenerative Disc Disease. Now I’ve got pictures, and I get respect. My spine looks like a sky-diving accident. Nutritionally, that’s about what happened.
Six weeks into veganism I had my first experience of hypoglycemia, though I wouldn’t know that’s what it was called until eighteen years had gone by and it had become my life. Three months into it I stopped menstruating, which should have been a clue that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. The exhaustion began around then, too, and it only got worse, along with the ever-present cold. My skin was so dry it flaked, and in the winter it itched so badly it kept me up at night. At twenty-four, I developed gastroparesis, which, again, wasn’t diagnosed or treated until I was thirty-eight and found a doctor who worked with recovering vegans.
Lierre Keith, The Vegetarian Myth, pp15-16.
One gets cases like this because doctors are trained by medical faculties that make no systematic attempt to ensure that what they teach is consilient with our evolved adaptations. The interaction of those adaptations with the ever-increasing evolutionary novelties of our contemporary lives is responsible for a great deal of chronic illness.
There is huge evolutionary novelty in the range and type of substances that we have come to use or to which we’re otherwise exposed. This is so even in our use of substances we’ve been exposed to since the dawn of agriculture.
Thus, removing or restricting evolutionarily novel things is rather likely to be metabolically beneficial to us. Instead, the typical medical response to metabolic ill-health has been to add yet more evolutionarily novel substances. This often comes with significant side-effects—to the extent that prescription drugs (both use and misuse) have become the third most common cause of death in developed societies. Medical training that is not consilient with evolutionary science is much more likely to be blind to this.
This blatant weakness within standard medical training—a weakness with equivalents elsewhere in academe (architects not trained in materials science or project management, for instance) suggests a broader pattern of university dysfunction.
Meanwhile, the degradation of activist scholarship has made our universities increasingly dysfunctional, even toxic. There are real questions as to not whether the university is a failed institutional form (as the mass university model increasingly is), but as to how much of a failed institutional form it has become, and why.
Universities had little to do with the discoveries that created the post-medieval Scientific, Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions. This raises a question about whether it is sensible to expect universities to be centres for discovery of useful knowledge. Making such creation a career-rewarded expectation has created incentives that generate a great deal of pseudo-knowledge, some of which amounts to outright fraud.
Regarding dysfunctions within public health, many people were surprised, even shocked, at how weakly connected to scientific evidence public health authorities’ responses to Covid were. If you’d been paying attention to how unconnected to scientific evidence our official nutrition guidelines are, this was much less surprising.
A model of prospering-through-failing, of colonising social pathologies, explains both patterns within our public health bureaucracies.
The Colonising State
Territorial empires colonise outwards. Welfare states colonise inwards. Internationalising states colonise upwards. The EU is the best-developed and most prolix example of the latter. Colonising is done by the state apparat, its career members and associated agents. These include non-profits, corporate HR departments, and other non-state actors.
The default relationship between a state apparat and the territory it controls is a colonising one. It takes great and persistent effort to force a more accountable relationship with the general populace on any state apparat.
The grander the state’s role, the more cover for its default colonising role is created. Hence, when the role given to the state is maximally grandiose—as in revolutionary Marxism or any totalising politics—the colonising pattern is maximised.
The Kim Family Regime of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is not some aberration. It merely adds a hereditary principle to the natural dynamic of transformational-state politics. A politics that provides most scope to the default-colonising of the state apparat.
The processes of benefiting from social dysfunction are explored further in the next essay.
* In the case of the politics of the transformational future, any failure just joins the endless parade of “not that”. A parade that includes every actual Marxist regime.
Lierre Keith, The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice and Sustainability, Flashpoint Press, 2009.
Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe, Farmers or Hunter-Gatherers: the Dark Emu Debate, Melbourne University Press, 2021.
Robert Trivers, The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life, Basic Books, , 2013.
Articles, papers, book chapters, podcasts
M. Ben-Dor, R. Barkai, ‘Prey Size Decline as a Unifying Ecological Selecting Agent in Pleistocene Human Evolution,’ Quaternary, 2021, 4, 7.
Peter C. Gøtzsche, ‘Our prescription drugs kill us in large numbers,’ Polskie Archiwun Medycyny Wewnetrznej (Controversies in Medicine), 2014; 124 (11), 628-634.
Zoe Harcombe, ‘Dietary fat guidelines have no evidence base: where next for public health nutritional advice?,’ British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2017, 51, 769–774.
Henrik Jacobsen, Kleven Claus, Thustrup Kreiner, Emmanuel Saez, ‘Why Can Modern Government’s Tax So Much? An Agency Model Of Firms As Fiscal Intermediaries,’ NBER Working Paper 15218, August 2009.
Katherine J. Latham, ‘Human Health and the Neolithic Revolution: an Overview of Impacts of the Agricultural Transition on Oral Health, Epidemiology, and the Human Body,’ Nebraska Anthropologist, 2013, 187, 95-102.
Stephanie Marciniak et al, ‘An integrative skeletal and paleogenomic analysis of stature variation suggests relatively reduced health for early European farmers,’ PNAS, 2022, Vol. 119, No. 15, e2106743119.
Herbert Marcuse, ‘Repressive Tolerance,’ in A Critique of Pure Tolerance, Robert Paul Wolff, Barringon Moore Jr., and Herbert Marcuse, Beacon Press, 1965.
Steven E. Nissen, ‘U.S. Dietary Guidelines: An Evidence-Free Zone,’ Annals of Internal Medicine, 2016, 164, 558-559.
Sara B. Police, Nicole Ruppert, ‘The US Military’s Battle with Obesity,’ Journal of Nutrition Education & Behavior, Vol.54, Issue 5, May 2022, 475-480.
Grant A. Rutledge, Laurence D. Mueller, Larry G. Cabral, and Michael R. Rose, ‘Evolutionary Biology of Diet, Aging, and Mismatch,’ Journal of Evolution and Health, Vol.3, Iss.1, Article 1, 2019.
Manvir Singh, Richard Wrangham & Luke Glowacki, ‘Self-Interest and the Design of Rules,’ Human Nature, August 2017.
Nina Teicholz, ‘Is U.S. Nutrition Policy Making the Military (and Recruits) too Fat to Fight?,’ Nutrition Coalition, News, November 14, 2018, nutritioncoalition.us/news/2018/11/14/military-and-recruits-too-fat-to-fight.
Erin Tompkins, ‘Obesity in the United States and Effects on Military Recruiting,’ Congressional Research Service, IF11708, December 22, 2020.
Jessica C. Thompson, Susana Carvalho, Curtis W. Marean, and Zeresenay Alemseged, ‘Origins of the Human Predatory Pattern: The Transition to Large-Animal Exploitation by Early Hominins,’ Current Anthropology, Volume 60, Number 1, February 2019.
Daniel Williams, ‘The marketplace of rationalizations,’ Economics & Philosophy (2022), 1–25.