Passivism and The Procedure

In his "Gentle Introduction, Part 9a", Mencius Moldbug introduces a neat little political methodology he calls "Passivism", and a Procedure to replace the current political machinery, which rots evilly in the Potomac swamp and stinks up this entire half of the world, with some shining and efficient New Structure fit for the 21st century. While the whole Gentle Introduction series is absolutely worth reading, it is rather long and Passivism and The Procedure deserve to be factored out on their own. This post will make an argument here and there, but is primarily intended to be an exposition of these ideas, rather than arguments for them.

The Procedure

The core of The Procedure is a three step general purpose program for solving problems of inadequate or rogue political machinery:

  1. Become Worthy
  2. Accept Power
  3. Rule

It sounds facetious. It's not. Let's unpack:

Step One, "Become Worthy", means that you prepare yourself and organize your friends so that if some higher power, for example an earthquake or political crisis, dissolved the current system and put you in charge, you could pick up the pieces and govern justly and effectively. That is, becoming worthy means building contingency in case the current structure fails and you have to provide your own government services, or to fill in the existing gaps in its service. Ideally, "worthy" means "obviously 10x more competent than the current structure". You should probably have a solid governance plan, a well constructed and efficient organization, high-quality people, a more trustworthy source of information, more reliable and useful community infrastructure, demonstrated success, etc.

Step Two, "Accept Power", is what happens when you are obviously 10x more competent than the current structure. You're not just a contingency plan anymore, but a recognizably better alternative right now, if only this rotten junk that is the current structure would get out of the way. And when that is clear, a number of options will present themselves. Members of the old structure will defect to yours, the important people will want you instead of them, social reality will shift, the old system will waver and fall while you pick up the pieces, etc. Completing the process will be a small matter of formalizing what everyone already knows in an atomic transfer of power. Atomic meaning that at time t, the old system is in charge, and at time t+1, the new system is in charge and running smoothly; ideally there is no costly period of collapse, confusion, and civil war. "Accept Power" is based on the ancient Chinese concept of the Mandate of Heaven, which states that power flows to the worthy; become actually worthy and you will receive the responsibility of power, as long as you accept it.

I can't pretend to know what Step Three, "Rule", entails; that is a job for the new structure built in step one. I would hope that it involves a general amnesty and policy of Retire All Government Employees rather than a bloody purge, and formalized ownership rather than nebulous concepts like "the people". But it's not up to me.

So that's The Procedure. Note that at no point is it planned for there to be mass propaganda campaigns, civil or culture war, offensive actions against the system, a political party, or anything like that. That is, the whole procedure is "Passivist".

Passivism

Passivism is the political methodology that is behind the Procedure. It is almost exactly the opposite of activism. The activist looks at the world and sees problems in the system about which something must be done. He leverages his political rights to convince and agitate the public, affect change through various mechanisms, and get society to fix the problem. The passivist, on the other hand, has no political rights, and he does not try to shift public opinion or influence the system in any way. The steel rule of Passivism is absolute renunciation of official power, which in practice precludes, "in no particular order":

demonstrations, press releases, suicide bombs, lawsuits, dirty bombs, Facebook campaigns, clean bombs, mimeographed leaflets, robbing banks, interning at nonprofits, assassination, "tea parties," journalism, bribery, grantwriting, graffiti, crypto-anarchism, balaclavas, lynching, campaign contributions, revolutionary cells, new political parties, old political parties, flash mobs, botnets, sit-ins, direct mail, monkeywrenching, and any other activist technique, violent or harmless, legal or illegal, fashionable or despicable.

The passivist is a subject, not a citizen; he is absolutely at the mercy of the system, whatever it is and whatever it decides to do. If the system orders him to jump, he jumps, but otherwise he goes about his private business. The passivist serenely refrains from having outraged and partisan opinions on the latest "social issues". His solemn duty is to submit to and obey the system.

That's liberating, in a way, but our activism-tainted minds are quick to reject it. We wonder exactly how we are supposed to take power and fix anything with this doctrine of political harmlessness. It's a bit too Zen for us neophytes; "to take power," says the master, "you must first renounce power".

When I first heard this, it seemed stupid. But having thought it over and having decided to approach these things seriously and strategically, Passivism now seems obviously correct. Passivism is harmless, yes, but it is also deadly. As for how to take power, well, the passivist does not take power, he accepts it. And to accept power, he must first become worthy of power. And the way to become worthy is not at all mysterious:

Persuade a small group of high-quality people to come to your way of thinking, build institutions that humbly solve problems, and eventually build a larger network of institutions that could actually step in and do a better job than the current system.

This we have heard before; The Procedure is just Passivism applied to the problem of government.

Why?

Passivism and thus The Procedure is the principled ideal. Step 1 in practice may fail to be perfectly passivist. Step 2 may fail to be perfectly bloodless or atomic. But it's always worth it to plan up front to do it the most principled and ideal way it could possibly be done, and back down from that idealism only when it is shown to be impossible, so that we spend the time and effort to do things the right way instead of accepting half-assed solutions. In my experience as an engineer, this stubborn principle of striving for the ideal has consistently led to superior work that I didn't always know I could do. This is the idealism of high standards, not to be confused with the idealism of willful blindness to the rough edges of the world. The right kind of idealism is deeply principled and pragmatically tactical at the same time. We will expand on the reasoning later, but briefly:

  • Passivism is simply and obviously moral. Everyone is a Passivist in a state of rectified politics, and we can't ask other people to accept something we wouldn't accept ourselves.

  • Passivism is stealth and armour. The system knows how to defend against, subvert, and destroy activist challenges. Passivism flies below their radar, and when they do notice you, they have no legal or moral pretext to shut you down.

  • Passivism degrades gracefully to a healthy and normal human life. If we fail to take over the world or whatever, we still build useful institutions, and don't blow anything up or waste the public's resources and attention.

  • Passivism does not feed the hysteria of the system, which thrives on the spectre of radical right-wing activism and imagined Vast Right Wing Conspiracies. We accept that their rule is what it is and don't resist; we are just planning and building for contingency. What is there to get worked up about?

  • Passivism enforces strategic thinking and low time preference. Raised on a diet of action movies and mythologized political history, it is every modern person's reflex to want political problems to be solved by magicking up an army and doing something with fire, but this isn't realistic or helpful. Passivism excludes people who can't think beyond this, and reinforces the conviction of those who can.

  • Passivism avoids the corrupting pressures of seeking popularity, i.e. Hitler. Seeking power through popularity with a mass of people always involves dumbing things down to be more viral, more populist, more feel-good. This is rarely aligned with what is good and strategic. The methodology that avoids the pressures of popularity is able to avoid their ugly failure modes.

  • Passivism and disengagement from culture war allows us to take defectors from all sides. Since we're not marching, we don't have to wave anyone's flag or pattern match to anyone's sworn culture enemies.

Passivism is the official political methodology of this blog. It's why we try to avoid current events, don't talk about what the government should do, and constrain our prescriptions to just what we can do for ourselves and our immediate communities. The details and practice of Passivism go very deep, but a surface-level understanding as presented in this article is a necessary starting point.