Attacking Moldbug: A brief critique of his style and epistemic methods

After reading an analysis of Moldbug by “The Worthy House,” a Catholic blogger, and after skimming some of his early writings myself, I’ve come to believe that Moldbug’s writings have serious flaws, despite their popularity among the dissident right. His epistemological method and style both have deep many deep errors, and accordingly the actual substance of his popular ideas are at best epistemologically lucky and at worst nonsensical.

Moldbug’s writing can be summed up as often being invalid epistemologically and dishonest rhetorically. In terms of the former, he almost always uncritically asserts certain assumptions and never seriously justifies them. Instead, he commits what I call the “therefore fallacy”: he spends almost all of his time discussing the implications of the high level claims that he presumes to be true. In terms of the former, Moldbug is often vague, sometimes only implying his assumption, and often veers off into smalltalk as opposed to analysis. Often this smalltalk is in the form of imagery, painting the world as according to Moldbug’s assumptions in the reader’s mind. This is a particularly vapid form of wasting his time discussing the implications of his assumptions as opposed to actually empirically analyzing their merits in the first place. Such vagueness, imagery, and smalltalk serve to make the reader drop his guard. When it is considered that much of his writing is composed of such chaff, it is implied that Moldbug writes not to tell or discover the truth, but to “persuade,” that is, to propagandize and trick certain unaware readers into uncritically accepting Moldbug’s dictations. Another rhetorical trick that Moldbug frequently uses is the non-central fallacy. This essentially involves the redefinition of a connotatively loaded word, like Orwellian, church, or leftist, into another definition that allows something else to be labeled with the word. This therefore transfers the previous connotation to the newly labeled thing undeservingly. One example highlights all of these issues. In the beginning of his “Gentle Introduction,” Moldbug asserts that liberal societies are “Orwellian Mind Control States.” This is totally unjustified, practically unverifiable, and asserted uncritically. Instead of carefully defining the term and testing whether or not certain societies fit the bill, Moldbug displays a low-info 5th grade understanding of history by asserting that “Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union” are examples of Orwellian Mind Control States. In the midst he babbles about brain eating worms and speaks directly to the reader in an obnoxious tone instead of just getting on with the “argument”. The necessarily intelligent man seriously portrays himself as incapable of critical thinking and rigor. Only AFTER saying that every society involved in WWII is an “Orwellian Mind Control State” (despite vaguely asserting that National Socialism is “categorically different” from liberalism) does Moldbug vaguely define his term as “a society that maintains their legitimacy by shaping public opinion [in a way which is inaccurate].” So what he has done here is he coined a vague term, asserted that the US, the USSR, and Nazi Germany all fit the term for no particular reason in between inane smalltalk and imagery babble, and then he defines the term, retroactively and uncritically designating all three societies as “Orwellian.” This is not only an example of an epistemologically invalid thesis interspersed with obnoxious smalltalk, it’s also an non-central fallacy tactic designed to cheaply and uncritically throw the connotation of “Orwellian” onto real societies. Afterwards it’s more smalltalk about Jedi and Sith and then an equally as stupid and sloppy assertion that Harvard is really a church, another example of anticoncept. The epistemologically proper way to argue this would be ask the question as to whether the US and other societies rely on shaping public opinion to believe lies in order to function. Then it should have been empirically examined as to whether or not they do this, and if so, what instrumental purpose it has. Depending on the results, which are to be based on detailed historical fact and perhaps some contemporary data collection, the question can be answered in the affirmative or in the negative. In the pursuit of truth, the rhetorical tactics should also be cut out: no more interspersed small talk about the wacky implications of the unproven assertion, imagery having to do with brain worms, or anticoncepts. Indeed, when it is imagined that those things are cut out of Moldbug’s writing and only the substance remains, it becomes clear that Moldbug didn’t test his assumption at all. As opposed to asking a question, researching it, and concluding, Moldbug literally asserted that the answer to the question is yes and moved on to the next topic. The rhetoric serves in part to obscure this empirical deficiency.

This one example is characteristic of all of Moldbug’s writing. Moldbug himself has admitted this briefly in a variety of places. In an early 2007 writing titled “A Formalist Manifesto,” he plainly states “I am not a big fan of ‘empirical evidence.’” Much later his thoughts seem the same. In “The Clear Pill Part I,” published in 2019, Moldbug wrote “Stage magic works by presenting true facts in a pattern that suggests a false story, and obscures a true story … Political stage magic is the psychological engineering of the population. … Maybe I’m the magician myself! Be careful.” Finally, in a draft of the first chapter of a book posted in June 2020 titled “#1: a general theory of collaboration,” Moldbug demonstrates a wanton disregard of the value of the truth, saying “My answers are long, hard, and very likely wrong. Maybe someone else can do better with the same questions.” His methodology is exactly the same in the 2020 writing as it was in 2007. Absolutely no care has gone into finding the truth; instead, Moldbug seems to be satisfied with thinking of himself as a most likely wrong, unempirical “stage magician,” This is what an analysis of his writings indicate that he is, and these flippant comments are evidence that he knows it.

A final point about the man: He portrays himself as if he writes much more than he reads. His writings are too vague. For instance, his treatment of history is almost always generalized, consisting of large, vague brushstrokes like the understanding of a child. Yet with this basis in facts he theorizes about power and memetics regardless. This demonstrates a reckless intellectual negligence characteristic of somebody with little understanding and who probably skims Wikipedia more than he actually reads the books he claims to read. His only form of citation, which is pasting the Amazon link to a whole book after claiming something that he perceives to be vaguely related, also seems like the sign of a man who reads more book summaries than he does whole books. The Worthy House concurs and finds additional evidence of this hypothesis: “for example, he repeatedly ascribes to Machiavelli the phrase ‘if you strike at a king, you must kill him,’ though it really comes from Emerson. And it was not Edmund Burke, but Adam Smith, who said ‘there is a lot of ruin in a nation.’ Such errors, rarely fatal but always irritating and undermining Yarvin’s claim to have a macroscopic view, crop up with metronomic regularity.” This is important because Moldbug’s style is highly demeaning and pedagogical; he dictates what is supposedly the truth to the reader, with little to no outside justification. It’s as if Moldbug just knows his assumptions are true from a lifetime of scholarly research. Except his knowledge level comes off as embarrassingly undetailed and underdeveloped, enhancing the issues with the way he writes.

Below I have attached the dissection of “The Clear Pill Part II” I performed. Though he toned down his use of the non-central fallacy, his method was largely the same. The annotation revealed that extremely little justification for his views is to be found in the first large chunk of the essay, while therefore fallacy passages, unsubstantiated assertions, and small talk permeate the piece. After briefly justifying some trivial points about the role of propaganda in Nazi Germany and the USSR, Moldbug asserts his belief in a decentralized theory of social control involving ideas as real objects and justifies absolutely none of it while not sparing the reader at all from the therefore fallacy, filling line after line with the minute implications of his faith, bordering on asserting new unjustified assumptions much of the time. In contrast, another source was dissected as that was on a similar topic, revealing that the therefore fallacy and the smalltalk was completely absent and that the source was absolutely loaded with justification for every line. That this source is considerably less heard of, alongside its particular disagreements with Moldbug, is telling.

Moldbug’s computer project Urbit was funded by Peter Thiel, who also funded Hoan Ton That, a transsexual Vietnamese developer who created Clearview AI, a dystopian nightmare software that can match any security camera clip of a person to identifying government photos. Hoan Ton That has gone on record to say that they are a neoreactionary and a fan of Moldbug. Peter Thiel is similarly amiable. A true understanding of money and memetics might lead to the hypothesis that part of Moldbug’s comparative popularity on the right is due to him being shilled by moneyed interests. He doesn’t even have to be aware. Quite literally, all they have to do is pay to get his Google ranking bumped or even pay shills to spread his ideas in seemingly organic ways. That Moldbug advocates for “disengagement,” (i.e., doing nothing) as the solution to our problems alongside his decentralized power theory and denial of the JQ only adds to any suspicion that he might invoke. But to true Moldbuggians, who have been convinced, based on what seems to be almost nothing of substance, that ideas and power are decentralized, this theory could never be entertained. What might be deeply flawed by many measures is really perfect. The same might be said for contemporary pop music and its many fans.

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