2018-12-11

The New Statecraft Project

I organize and edit discussions on the nature of society and the state, with the aim of creating an engineering grade science of social technology, focused on statecraft. This project has its own site: New Statecraft Project.

As more pressing concerns have intervened, this project isn’t as active as it was in earlier 2018. But neither is it dead; the underlying discussions and thought processes continue; I just don’t always have time to edit them into digestable insights.

But enough meta. The purpose of the New Statecraft Project should be reasonably clear from the name: America needs a new way of thinking about the role of the state in society, and a new tradition of statecraft to go with it.

To get there from here, I think one of the highest leverage things we can work on is research towards an engineering-grade science of social technology.

Let me clarify what I mean by that:

First of all, Social Technology is an idea that has taken off in the discourse as people strive to understand society through fresh conceptual lenses, examining the functional purpose of culture. The idea is fairly simple and self-explanatory:

What if we imagined cultural norms and beliefs not as inviolable Tradition, meaningless personal aesthetics, or problematic systems of oppression, but as technology: sometimes-consciously designed, optional but useful, ways of ourganizing our means.

So Social Technology is the technologies built out of human behavior. When we get married, have friends, decide who was wrong in some dispute, walk on the right side of the sidewalk, start a company, or vote on a motion, we are using social technology to solve real problems that would be otherwise harder to solve.

The idea of social technology has profound implications for how we see society, as compared to the theoryless fog of confusion most of us would otherwise wander through.

Next, the idea of sceince. As I see it, something is scientific when it has a sharp enough core theory, a paradigm, to enable it to be integrated into the rest of our scientific-mathematical knowledgebase.

A science of social technology would have a sharp enough theory of anthropology and social organization to make it possible to import and crosspolinate knowledge from network theory, complexity theory, thermodynamics, evolutionary biology, economics, and so on. Can you do sharply predictive mathematical derivations of theorems in the field? If not, you’re knowledge is not scientific.

People often object that a science of humans is impossible, because the existence of free will invalidates the mechanistic assumptions of science, or because humans are inherently too squishy and vague to be predicted. This is of course not true: mechanistic assumptions are not necessary to science, only to those fields where reality is in fact mechanistic. And vagueness and squishyness is always a property of our concepts, not reality itself. We don’t have the paradigm of human sciences yet, but given better concepts, these problems would resolve.

A science of social technology would enable us to make sharply predictive statements about social technology: This system has that failure mode. That phenomenon is central to this social structure.

An engineering-grade science is one where the paradigm is mature enough to actually enable engineering, which is the conscious construction of technology using scientific knowledge of the phenomena in question to plan and design.

So an engineering-grade science of social technology would be a teachable formal discipline of building and implementing social technology and social fabric.

My bet is that such a discipline would lay a very powerful groundwork for a positive restoration of the many rough spots in our social fabric.

It’s easy to misinterpret this kind of approach for the cavalier top-down social engineering fetishized by the 20th century modernist regimes. As such, it is important to note that societies are complex organic systems, as much like an ecosystem as like an industrial plant. Total central direction is not desirable or effective.

That said, neither should we fall into the anti-rationalist social mysticism and primitivism which rejects any central organization or conscious design.

The social technologist wields power, especially the power of the state, but must do so organically, embedded in the system he is shaping, more like an organic permaculture gardener than like either an industrial farmer or primitive gatherer.

The goal of the New Statecraft project is to lay this theoretical groundwork. Check it out at the site: newstatecraft.org.