Zvi, thank you for writing this. I’ve been working through Baudrillard too and coming to the same conclusion—he is far more insight porn than philosophy, compared to famous scholars with similar metaphysics such as Foucault and Zizek. I’ve got a long post in the pipeline on this as well.
It’s really frustrating that this community has been spinning up an elaborate schema which is a misinterpretation of a sophist, where the original conversants both admitted they had by that point only read the Wikipedia summary of the book. This feels like the opposite of quality scholarship, not that this is entirely Benquo and jessicataylor’s fault, rather how the discussion ended up picking this up and running with it.
The rationalist community’s reading of Baudrillard tries to put some sense back into what is fairly sophisticated. But the main problem both groups make is assuming that Level 1 is some fallen ideal, rather than something progressively achieved. Baudrillard is baking a hotter take—which most rationalist discussion completely misses—that Level 1 is completely vanished and Level 2 is on its way out too. He thinks we live in a postmodern world (surprisingly to rationalists who haven’t read the postmodernists: like most postmodernist scholars he does not actually think this is very good) where meaning is composed wholly of simulacra, which does not actually reference the real world which our bodies live in, although he says the real world sure references it.
This misinterpretation of him is easy to make—partly because it sounds like he developed a philosophy out of being totally dissociated. He hated the Matrix, which the Wachowskis referenced him in, for this reason: in the Matrix the virtual reality can be escaped.
My alternative proposal is to re-ground the discussion in a better take about power relations and social games, noticing which groups throughout history play these games and which don’t. The basic conclusion is people generally converse as if they were in the 2nd order (level), jump up in simulation order whenever their access to resources they don’t produce are at stake, and jump down when they have a hand in producing resources. Global meaning has no particular order, unlike Baudrillard’s claim that it is of the 4th order.
More to come.
I’m looking forward to it.
re-ground the discussion in a better take about power relations and social games
Thank you! this is the lens I was missing, and explains my deep confusion about why people are taking this weird categorization so seriously. Once I frame it as “all of these levels are simultaneously true (for different propositions, with focus on different types of decision/behavior), and different groups (or individuals) benefit from shifting the public discourse toward their wheelhouse”, it makes sense.
Still not sure it’s USEFUL, as opposed to a more direct analysis of power and relationship to overton window and acceptable analytical frameworks, but I think I get it more.
Huh. I’m sort of surprised this hadn’t come through before this comment. (In particular I thought Zvi’s previous post on “There’s a Virus Over The Ocean” laid it out fairly explicitly). I’m curious if you can articulate what made this comment click?
Probably idiosyncratic to me—I bounced off the discussion a few times early on, and have since been skimming and sampling posts and comments trying to figure out why all y’all seem so invested in the model. Power and public/private belief dichotomy are certainly not central to most of the posts—it may have been mentioned a few times and I missed it because it seemed non-central.
I don’t see “There’s a Virus Over The Ocean” in Zvi’s recent post list, and LW search only finds your comment with that phrase. Got a direct link?
Here you go (sorry, I actually forgot the title)
Ah, I had seen that. And bounced off yet again, because it started out with repetition that the levels are progressive and exclusive, and it seemed to continue the implication that each level is the primary belief of the proponents/victims of that level.
It also uses an example where higher levels are strictly worse in the author’s opinion, and I’ve seen so few examples of the other direction (where higher levels allow one to predict the future better, and we’re better off ignoring Level 1 and 2 to get level 3 and 4 working well (perhaps in the context of societal equilibria), that I honestly don’t know whether the theory is positive or normative.
Note: I should probably acknowledge that I may be The Nihilist in this system. Communication is an act, which sometimes conveys trivial factual information, and almost always conveys illegible status and connotative information.
I do personally disagree with Zvi about the right framing of the levels (with Mr Hire’s comments on this post being an example of a disagreement in frame that I share)
Can you speak more to how higher levels would allow predicting the future better?
I might be mistaken—my understanding of this is that the act of knowing and understanding that other people are on levels 3 and 4 is itself still a level-1 act: it’s an object-level belief about the states of human minds in the universe. And therefore you can be aware of the level-3 and level-4 effects of your own actions (and choose them accordingly), without being on 3 or 4 yourself. To be on level-3 or level-4 involves actually missing information (or at least risking missing it). As I’ve understood it.
And that’s why Zvi put the “Pragmatist” at only level 2, even though he “balances impact at all levels they are aware of slash care about.” He can lie, or he can tell the truth, and he does whatever will bring his net preferred effect across all levels. I think rationalists are the Pragmatist.