divine curation

The Cathedral and the Vampire Castle

October 9, 2020

Some loose thoughts on similarities and differences in Curtis Yarvin, Mark Fisher, and Hanzi Freinacht. See also my post on accelerationism.


Curtis Yarvin’s analysis of progressivism as a decentralised program of control is striking in its structural similarity to many contemporary critiques of capitalism.


What Yarvin calls the Cathedral names a concrete entity, the same that Mark Fisher calls the Vampire Castle. These both identify a bourgeois social structure that shapes the boundaries of public discourse to serve its interests. But they have different opinions about what it is, where it came from, and how it functions in relation to the status quo.


For Yarvin the Cathedral is a product of the success of progressivism (understood as an impersonal memetic force). For Fisher the Vampire Castle is not a reflection of progressive politics, but rather an appropriation of them by bourgeois interests—a product of the gentrification of the left.


Both see the existence of this social structure as a systemic rather than moral issue—its existence depends on no intentional conspiracy. As Jo Freeman argued, elites function best when their members do not recognise that they belong to them.


But there is a question for both: why the link between bourgeois prestige and progressive politics, specifically?


Answer 1: There is no particular reason, that’s just where we happen to be in the fashion cycle. Political tastes can and will change with the season.


Answer 2 (Yarvin’s): Progressivism exists in a concrete lineage of thought that has its origins in Quakerism. (Similar points have been made by leftwing commenters, for example David Graeber recently speculated about the links between cancel culture and Puritanism.) That it has become popular in bourgeois circles is a reflection of the virulence of the meme, which has found a host in those with most influence.


Answer 3 (Fisher’s): It is an inevitable response to contradictions inherent in capitalism. It is true that capitalism has produced widespread alienation and social injustice, and progressive politics arises as a legitimate response to those concrete realities. It is therefore these real forces of resistance that capitalism must neutralise by reducing them to tokens of bourgeois chic.


For Yarvin the existence of this structure is a bad thing because it produces constant arbirary change. (Change for the sake of change is required to provide endless new stakes to be played for in the bourgeois prestige game.) For Fisher its existence is bad because it suppresses the change required for emancipation.


Others seem to think it is a good thing. Hanzi Freinacht argues that change being driven by competition for social capital is a positive when social capital accrues to e.g. artists, visionaries, or social justice advocates. Competition for social capital is theorised by Freinacht as a means of getting beyond the competition for money capital that requires endless consumption of material resources.


Freinacht’s argument is reminiscent of an old transhumanist response to the problem presented by capitalism’s infinite growth model. The argument was that once material needs were met capital itself would become increasingly virtual, and ultimately could be decoupled completely from material resources. Infinite growth could continue within the constraints of finite resource consumption.


In Freinacht’s model the transition from money capital to social capital represents such a virtualisation. The Fisherian response is that the required decoupling is impossible. Because it is a prestige game, access to the marketplace of social capital is limited, and its entry fee is paid in none other than money capital. They do not form autonomous domains of value—social capital is rather embedded within and conditioned by the circulation of money capital. According to this critique Freinacht’s model cannot work, for roughly the same reasons that trickle-down economics cannot work.


Yarvin champions money capitalism as a means of liberation from prestige. Freinacht champions social capitalism as a means of liberation from money. Fisher doesn’t see much difference between these views, and thinks that the mediation of value creation by any kind of market mechanism is sufficient to foreclose the possibility of liberation.


Frank Stone, 04 December 2020

To adjudicate liberation and argue for or otherwise advocate any view about it is to mediate value in the marketplace of assent (as well as ideas).

divinecuration, 04 December 2020

Thanks for your comment, it’s a good point and one that anyone taking the view I’ve attributed to Fisher has to contend with.

My response would be that not every medium of exchange is a marketplace. What makes a market a market (in the sense relevant here) is that exchange occurs under the sign of a universal equivalent: anything can trade against anything else, adjusting for quantities. Mostly this is just represented by the fact that everything has a price in some common currency.

But this condition does not hold in other exchange scenarios. In tribal gift exchange, for example, certain kinds of goods could often only be exchanged with others of the same category. Or particular objects may be governed by particular rules of exchange: in medieval Europe one could kill the King for the crown, but it could not be bought.

More relevant: a rational space of reasons can be seen as a medium of exchange which is not governed by a logic of universal equivalence. Characteristic of rational exchange is that certain exchanges are impossible (negation/non-contradiction), while others are often unilateral (implication). When trading reasons or ideas with someone in, say, a private conversation, these ideas are not competing in a marketplace; the medium of exchange is structured according to different rules.

There is a different question about whether it is the case now - in this cultural moment - whether all media of exchange (including rational exchange) have been embedded within markets, in which case it may be true that the value of any advocation is mediated by their logic (and therefore neutralised, according to the Fisherian line). If so this just suggests that the thing to do is create new media outside market relations, rather than new messages within them.

The Cathedral and the Vampire Castle - October 9, 2020 - Divine Curation