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Markets, Managerialism, and Mass Effect
the real-world reapers
Mass Effect is a great game with a great story. I’ll be using elements from that story in this article, so be warned that spoilers follow.
A Convenient Scaffolding
In the Mass Effect universe the Milky Way Galaxy is equipped with ancient devices known as Mass Relays that facilitate near instantaneous travel between the huge number of star systems they are scattered across. All sentient species in the universe who make use of these relays assume that they’re simply relics of an ancient advanced civilization that is long extinct. They assume that these relays were built by a star faring species for the purposes of expanding and exploring the galaxy, because that is what any sentient species would do if it had the technology and will to accomplish such a feat, would it not? The arrangement of these relays, and a massive self-sustaining space station discovered empty in perfect working order was assumed to be natural. While the disappearance/absence of the ancient engineers of these structures was mysterious, it nevertheless felt natural to occupy and make use of such convenient architecture and technology.
An Inconvenient Truth
The truth is that these marvels were not constructed organically by an earnest star-faring species seeking to explore the galaxy. No, it is much more sinister than that. As is ultimately revealed, these convenient relays owed their providence to an even more ancient race of sentient machines. These machines constructed the relays and the station that controlled them for one purpose: to guide the development of sentient biological life in a manner that allowed the fruits of their existence to be cataclysmically harvested and integrated into the machine race every 50,000 years or so. This ancient machine race was given a name by the alien race they exterminated in the last cycle: Reapers. I see some profound similarities between this synthetic life form that seeks to manage the ebb and flow of life on a cosmic scale and the globalized managerialism that we have all come to take as a pre-ordained feature of the post-industrial age.
The Managerial Masquerade
Communists always complain that “real” Communism hasn’t been tried when you point to the hundreds of millions killed by this inhuman ideology. I don’t want to use the same line, but in this case I really can’t help it. In the industrial age, “real” free market capitalism has never been tried. As the managerial revolution unfolded alongside the industrial revolution, the ideology of managerialism took over worldwide. There were different versions, of course, and these different versions are ubiquitous in the modern world, they are assumed to comprise the full spectrum of available systems. According to the dominant narrative, the post-industrial world is a world that is by definition and by necessity a managed world. But a free market is not managed, so what did we have in the notionally “free market” oriented America? Managerial liberalism. Corporatism. A complex web of “public-private partnerships” that protected America from the chaos all the very smart people assure us would invariably accompany proles making decisions for themselves. They called it capitalism, but it wasn’t true capitalism. Managers were directing it. Shaping it. Oh it might have looked like a free market, especially compared to Fascism and Communism, but it was always closer to these siblings than it was to “true” capitalism.
A Cultivated Path
Your civilization is based on the technology of the mass relays, our technology. By using it, your society develops along the paths we desire.
Behind every narrative that suggests the post-industrial history of America is the story of capitalism there are occult truths that provide ample contradiction. From Eli Whitney’s cotton gin to Thomas Edison’s lightbulb to the Wright Brothers first flight, the real story of how technology developed is too chaotic to fit into a tightly woven and easily communicated narrative. The stories we’ve heard generally center around the sociopaths who made the earliest and most aggressive bids to the patent office in order to earn themselves an edge against the competition, an edge backed by the full coercive weight of the U.S. Government. Meanwhile businesses proliferated and organized under the auspices of limited liability. I’ll not delve into the overall merits of intellectual property law and limited liability. I only bring them up because they are artificial constructs that directly serve the interests of the managerial class by concentrating economic growth into nodes that are well suited for optimization via top down management and control. These features of our economy are thought to be sacrosanct components of capitalism, but examining them both through the lens of the non-aggression principle I can’t help but see them as transgressive. From these superficially innocuous features emerge larger firms that begin to have the power to demand more powerful government to secure their lofty positions against the roiling chaos of the market. These dynamics once set into motion can’t help but produce the highly managed economy we “enjoy” today.
Playing the Rigged Game
Once this path is laid and an economy that suits the managers is built in its wake, rules emerge that seem to carry the weight of metaphysical and moral certainty. Castalia’s recent article Against Branding (and Sarah Fay) astutely describes the typical mindset of a striver eager to play the game laid before them:
somebody like Fay treats that wisdom as close to an iron law of how communication must be conducted in the digital age. Like it or not, you are a brand, runs that line of thought camouflaged as the-way-things-are. You must be short, crisp, probably cheerful, and utterly recognizable to your readers. Do that and you will have health, wealth, and a steady stream of likes. Don’t do that and your existence will be as sad as a floundering penny stock’s.
Every industry has the same lame assholes parroting this spiritually insensate party line. The trouble is, in the near term it might be decent enough advice. Climb the slippery ladder as high and as fast as you can! Maybe that way you can hold onto some semblance of freedom, well, at least for a time. Maybe not long, but longer than the guy who doesn’t play the rigged game. Oh, and in this materialist, nihilistic amoral hellscape we all inhabit the only thing that means anything is how much money you have. Didn’t you know? If you’re rich its proof you’re as good as the Mandarins, maybe if you get rich enough they’ll even let you join the club!
I shouldn’t have to point out the extent to which every aspect of this game is rigged. The kinds of things that make you competitive in this market are not likely the same things that would be rewarded in a truly free market, but that’s just me speculating. What I’m pretty damn confident of is that the dropping of all pretenses of authenticity to pursue the “optimal strategy” in your field to make money over all other considerations is a morally bankrupt endeavor.1 It is corrupting of the soul. Money can help fulfill your purpose, but this kind of orientation sets people up to be captured by the idea that making money is your purpose, and committing to this path is committing to murdering your own soul.
The Doomed Fight From Within
The other strategy people employ is to try to positively influence this rigged system from within. The first thing that gets people here is that they’re products of mass forced schooling so they see everything as the problem except the Mandarins that twisted market forces into this perverse system in the first place. These days the biggest target for activists is systemic racism, but in times past its been any number of villains. The thing is, there ARE plenty of villains, its just that they are empowered by a managerial class and the ideology of managerial liberalism that is nearly imperceptible in its ubiquity. Managerial liberalism is essentially the standard issue operating system Americans are indoctrinated with at the outset, then they take these assumptions into a managerial environment where all of the incentives serve to reward adherence to the ideology and participation in the system. As cultural savvy develops “fight from within” types begin to not only sense these carrots, but also the corresponding stick. At a certain point those within the system come to understand that their reputation and prospects would be devastated if they ever dare to express meaningful dissent.
And this brings us back to our fictional corollary for the managerial Mandarins. The greatest weapon the Reapers employed against those they sought to harvest wasn’t massive armaments and neigh impenetrable kinetic shields, it was indoctrination. Indoctrination is a mysterious process by which any sentient beings within close proximity to a Reaper or even Reaper technology eventually lose their independent will and become subservient to the Reapers. I’d argue that this is exactly what happens to the Company Man, even if he begins with the best of intentions and witnesses untold vicious travesties. The incentives ensure that over time the individual bends their will to align with managerial imperatives, or they are pushed out into “irrelevance.” The indoctrination happens slowly, almost imperceptibly at first. You intuit that there are certain truths you can’t speak, for to do so would cost influence, and without influence how can you effectively fight from within? In time, there is nothing such individuals won’t do to serve the managerial imperatives that eventually come to dominate their entire being.
The Current State
Today the managerial revolution seems to be entering into its final phase. Without swift and effective resistance, both soft and hard means of suppressing dissent will converge to stop a horrified and discontented populace from gathering sufficient will to rise up and meaningfully resist this great evil that plagues our lands. We can take a microscope to any aspect of the global economy perverted by the assumptions of managerialism and find any manner of absurdity. My favorite recent example is the case of McKinsey & Company outlined by.
This firm is a great example of the evils of managerialism because it takes the concept and puts it on steroids. The money is no longer in direct management, because that takes some modicum of time and effort. We’ve Progressed to the point where the best of the best simply provide advice to the managers (who are now apparently so incompetent that they need to pay millions of dollars for other people to do their thinking for them). I can’t imagine a better indication of late stage bureaucracy… Anyway, as I was saying, the madness that is managerial consulting provides a great view of the terminal consequences of allowing managerial liberalism to supplant markets. Everywhere you look you will finds these intractable problems (although I can’t imagine a more dramatic example than McKinsey & Company). Did I say problems? That’s my bias talking. They’re only problems to people who care about things like purpose and meaning. To the Reapers, I mean the managerial class, all the chaos is pure upside. After all, nothing encourages the proles to demand ever more management from people who promise that they have all the answers than fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
Skin in the Wrong Game
Thanks to their dominance over the global economy, the managerial class perpetually has skin in the wrong game. They’re accountable to perpetuate the ideology of managerial liberalism to maintain their prestige and influence, but to shareholders, voters, or the rule of law? Not so much. Since there will always be those people who are content to play the game, we need to make sure we’re all playing the right game. In this case, the right game is the one that emerges from nature. The true free market. But currently very few people have skin in that game. To have skin in that game you need to be accountable to natural law, and all of the institutions that used to require that have been indoctrinated by the Reapers. The mega-church will be content to provide you with all the prestige you want in exchange for that cash you earned by playing the game. The defense establishment will pay the retired general who did nothing but lose wars and their abrogate oath to occupy a comfortable sinecure as long as they parrot the party-line until they expire as a multi-millionaire. Until society’s best and brightest have skin in the right game, they’ll only serve the Reapers.
Holding ourselves accountable is not something all of us can do. The moral courage and competence it takes to be remotely successful in this endeavor is rare. That is why we have always needed mediating institutions to perform this vital function. Such institutions can be re-forged and/or reconquered, but this counter-revolutionary action will be laborious. Different institutions will have different conception of what it means to be in alignment with natural law, but that is just part of it. There is a reason that the vast illegal and unconstitutional censorship death star that is being constructed has been targeting “populist narratives” above all else. The inherent epistemic humility to accept that there is no one-size-fits-all top down managerial solution is the only existential threat to the Reapers. It is a total repudiation of their hubristic worldview, and if the masses ever come to fully appreciate the full extent to which their “betters” offer an inferior means of organizing society that perpetually punishes the common man while rewarding and enriching those of the lowest character, their malign hold on the world will falter and break.
The key to success against the Reapers centers around open communication. In cycles past, the Reapers retained control over the central node of galactic government, including communications which relied on the Mass Relay network they controlled. A small band of scientists from the last cycle sabotaged this means of taking initial control. This gave the heroes of the Mass Effect universe had a fighting chance against the Reapers in their cycle. It all came down to their ability to communicate and coordinate. The enemy understands this as well as anyone. This is why spooks converge on X and efforts to subvert the ruling of Missouri v. Biden with increasingly sneaky and underhanded tactics have redoubled. If we can maintain free and open communication, we will win, but this is easier said than done. It will literally take everything we’ve got to prevail.
This is probably one of the principle reasons Effective Altruism (EA) has become so popular with these types. They retain the desire to fulfill some sort of ultimate purpose in their vapid lives, and demand a narrative that allows them to turn money into purpose and meaning. To those of us who aren’t spiritually autistic, everything they do is painfully obtuse, but they can’t see it because they abandoned a true connection to purpose as soon as they put money first. What motivates those in the EA community is papering over the gaping spiritual rent in their souls that was torn open as soon as they embraced playing the game.