30 November 2013

The Crime Rates thing

One of the problems reactionaries draw attention to, as an example of the ineffectiveness of the modern state, is the threat of crime.

To this, progressives respond with statistics showing that incidences of crime per capita have been on a general downward trend for the last few centuries. Stephen Pinker recently published a book on this point, and anti-reactionaries are, understandably, making a big deal of it.

There are various measurement difficulties with crime rates, but Pinker isn’t a climate scientist, and so it’s not likely that all the measurement errors are going in the same direction.

Are perceptions of increased danger just wrong, then? They could very plausibly be the product of media sensationalism and hightened expectations. But I have doubts that frequency of crime, particularly frequency of crime per thousand of population, are really the right measure.

After all, fear of crime isn’t a passive, background thing. You don’t sit and worry that you’re going to be mugged before your next birthday. You worry when you walk home from the railway station at night. Fundamentally, you worry when you go out of a highly protected area.

So the intensity of your worry depends on what the risk is of going out of a protected area for a time. If people are doing that much less often than they used to, then it might have got more dangerous to do so, yet incidence of crime will be down.

There are a few reasons why people might be doing dangerous things less often. Many people have cars, which are mobile fortresses with lockable doors. That’s our old friend, advances in technology masking other problems. It might be that some areas that were dangerous are now safe. That would be a geniuine improvement, a real diminution of crime and the threat of crime. It might be that some unsafe areas are now so unsafe that people rarely go there at all, which would actually be an increase in the threat of crime, without showing in the statistics. Then there’s the scale question:

Fleet Street in London is still Fleet Street. It’s the same length it was when Pepys walked down it, from Ludgate Circus to Chancery Lane.

If crime rates are the same as they were a hundred years ago, does that mean there should be the same number of crimes on it, or a higher number in proportion to the change of population? Or in proportion to the change of population divided by the change in the total length of road? But should that be all road, or important town-centre type street? Society does not scale linearly.

It would be interesting to see a town that stayed approximately the same size over decades, and look at its crime statistics, to eliminate these difficult scaling factors. But a town that stayed the same size would almost certainly have changed its role, relative to other towns. Not so helpful.

One thing that occurred to me is a football match. A big match is like a temporary town — in population, it’s the size of a small town. Is a football “town” the same size as a hundred years ago, and is it more or less violent?

Oh. The answer is that it’s smaller, because the level of violence had grown so much by the 1980s that the government forced reductions in stadium capacity, along with other measures.

That’s one indication that, isolated from scale effects and technology, violence has become worse.

Of course, history goes on: football stadiums are now less violent than they were in the 1980s, and for all I know less violent than they were in the 1930s, because they have become highly-policed zones.

The simple summary: there is no simple summary. Waving the hand and talking about “more crime” is wrong, at least relative to population. Some areas of life have become less policed, while some have become extremely heavily policed, and much safer. The things we do that expose us to risk of crime have changed, partly due to technology, partly due to bigger towns and cities, and partly due to social changes. If you want to show that some particular activity has become more dangerous today than in the past, concentrate on that — specific evidence is somewhat clearer than aggregate statistics. Moldbug’s “Map of areas a person can walk alone in confidence” is the right general approach (thanks to @lexcorvus for the link).

Update. I still don’t feel that I’m hitting the nail on the head. I feel that crime is something that should be at the edge of society. We have expanded — scaled — society, but we are measuring crime rate relative to the volume, not the size of the edge. A sort of square/cube law error.

28 November 2013

Failure Modes of Monarchy

OK, so a couple of outside websites have stirred the murky pool of neoreaction — a welcome development, I think.

Because of the angle they came at it from (via Mike Annissimov, via Scott Alexander), they rather overstated the importance of monarchism to neoreaction. Monarchy is important as a point of comparison, but it is only one possible approach among several for a neoreactionary future.

Having said that, Anomaly UK is where future monarchy gets seriously proposed, so I’ve pulled together what I think are the main failure modes of monarchy, to put the dangers in the proper perspective. Most of them have been discussed here before, so this is largely an exercise in consolidation and better explanation.

By “failure”, I mean either that the system collapses and is replaced with something else, or that the system survives but is very unpleasant to live under.

There are some failure modes that are common to all systems of government: any system can be invaded by foreigners, or be overthrown by a demagogue. Monarchy, because its distinctive feature is the lack of selection applied to its rulers, and the lack of regular mechanisms for replacing them, has, or is perceived to have, its own peculiar failure modes. Here they are:

  1. King is an evil psychopath
  2. King is a liberal
  3. King is uninterested, politics ensues
  4. King is sick, insane or senile
  5. King is a child
  6. Succession is unclear
  7. King has odd ideas short of insanity


Evil Psychopath — I can't think of any. Democracy (particularly one-party democracy) seems to have a far stronger track record of putting evil psychopaths in power than monarchy does.

Liberals — this has historically been the major failure mode. The solution is to permanently discredit democracy and liberalism. The Roman Republic managed to achieve that for Europe for over a thousand years, so I’m optimistic on this point.

Uninterested — this was a major concern throughout the monarchical period, but I struggle to think of examples, at least from English history. Edward II maybe? That’s a long way back.

Sick or insane — this has been troublesome. Modern medicine greatly reduces the risk: the best-known examples have been the result of syphilis or other treatable conditions. Senility is a major worry for a modern monarchy, though.

Child — again, historically a big worry, but not common: it hasn’t happened in England since Edward VI. Better health makes it less likely. The British royal family currently has three generations of mature adults available.

Unclear succession — again, better health makes shortage of heirs a very minor concern. Disputed legitimacy might become an issue: even with the availability of genetic testing, there is the question of who does the testing and whether they are trusted. My impression is that while disputes over legitimacy or rules of succession are not that rare historically, they are usually cover for some deeper underlying problem, often religious.

Odd ideas — this seems like a worry. Historical examples are again scarce, though. Most odd ideas can be indulged as hobbies at miniscule cost to a modern nation.

The most dangerous odd idea is liberalism; such a damaging and plausible outcome that I already listed it separately. Most European monarchies did in fact succumb to liberal kings. The next most serious threat is religion. If the king adopts a minority religion, or even the majority religion with too much enthusiasm, he risks stirring dangerous levels of opposition. The Stuarts’ problems mostly stemmed from this (though the reformation in Europe necessarily made things difficult for them). My solution is antidisestablishmentarianism.

The common element in many of the perceived dangers of monarchy relate to what the intentions of the monarch will be. The intentions of monarchs seem to nearly always be to preserve his kingdom intact for his family, to be remembered as a success, and, quite often, to get laid a lot.

These motives can cause problems — heavy-handed policing employed against even remote threats to the regime, wasteful vanity projects — are common to all forms of government, particularly democracy. The failure modes that really are specific to monarchy are well-understood, and steps to avoid them have been taken — it is well-known that the chief responsibility of the young royal is to produce more than one legitimate heir at a relatively decent age.

We see this today in the non-ruling royal families of Europe, along with a relatively recent development, that elderly monarchs are routinely either abdicating in favour of their children, or less formally delegating to them. This is an important response to modern longevity. A monarch with strong family loyalty who found himself incapacitated by illness would be likely to do the same.

A tight family group provides these benefits to a monarchy, but if the family is relied on as the most trusted set of allies for the monarch, then family members are going to be competing to some extent for power and influence. This is normal, and happens under every form of government. The fact is that members of a royal family are closer to having a common long-term interest than members of other ruling organisations — political parties, civil service departments or military commands, and so are less likely to be destructive in their competition.

10 November 2013

Neoreaction and dynasties

There was an amusing little tiff on Twitter last week illustrating one of the choices in the neoreactionary position.

Marko Sket admiringly posted a quote from Vladimir Putin:

If minorities prefer Sharia Law, then we advise them to go to those places where that’s the state law. Russia does not need minorities. Minorities need Russia, and we will not grant them special privileges, or try to change our laws to fit their desires, no matter how loud they yell ‘discrimination’

This led to some exploration of the idea of Putin becoming a proper Tsar, put first by @CarlosEstebanRD, and whether he has sons, etc.

While kicking over the possibilities and difficulties, Arthur R. Harisson chimes in with:

Why are we going around choosing kings? Maria Vladimirovna is the Empress. End of story. Crown her.

So there we have it: does neoreaction mean a strong, realist leader like Putin taking on more of the beneficial aspects of traditional rule, such as a secure hereditary succession, or does it mean the literal restoration of long-deposed dynasties like the Romanovs?

Neo? Paleo?

I don’t think there is really any deep division. On the one hand, none of us would object to crowning Duchess Maria if the opportunity arose. On the other, it’s pretty hard to be any kind of monarchist without accepting at least retrospectively a rare replacement of one dynasty with another.

The division, such as it is, comes only from the great distance to be travelled to restore hereditary rule via either path, the old or the new. As @MarkoSket pointed out

[Putin proclaiming himself] would be a rift into Russian society. Putin still rely on the support of the inheritors of Soviet privileges ... Putin and Siloviki derive their internal legitimacy as inherited accomplices in the real Russian Czar murder

While on the other side, Duchess Maria says (my emphasis)

I affirm my belief that legitimate hereditary monarchy is the only form of government that is divinely ordained, and I am convinced that it is compatible with any age, including our own, and could be suitable for and useful to our multi-national country. At the same time, I understand that, right now and for the foreseeable future, the restoration of the Monarchy is premature, and I categorically reject any possibility of a Restoration without the consent of the People. Only the free, informed, legally-formulated, and all-national expression of the will of the People could authorize a rebirth of the monarchy that existed in Russia between 862 and 1917.

Formidable obstacles on both paths. To talk about reconciling the two paths, e.g. by marrying off one of Putin’s mysterious daughters to Grand Duke Gerogii Mihailovich, is to pile more fantasy onto the already improbable.

Finally, the very concept of converting an explicitly republican government to a hereditary one is, so far as I know, as yet unproven. Neither Tumbledown Dick nor North Korea’s current dynasty provide happy precedent. I read recently that Hosni Mubarak was planning to have his son Gamal succeed him as president, but obviously that did not work out.