Look Upon My Pigs, Ye Mighty, and Despair

by Arthur B

Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs is a slower game that requires more time to digest and chew over compared to The Dark Descent.
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When I first heard that Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs would be developed by The Chinese Room I had a little trepidation - Dear Esther had seemed rather trite to me, and I was concerned that they would produce an exercise in linear storytelling and minimal gameplay that would lose a lot of what made The Dark Descent work. Although they do drift in the direction of high linearity and minimal gameplay, I think in this case The Chinese Room have produced a followup that in some respects outdoes the original.

The game casts you as wealthy industrialist Oswald Mandus, boss of the Mandus meat production empire. After hearing the sound of your twin sons begging you not to kill them and a momentary vision of a vast machine roaring into life, you wake up in a bedroom in your luxurious mansion - a bedroom with a large metal cage over the bed. Your memories are minimal - all you know is that your sons are playing somewhere and you need to find them - but as you explore the house it becomes apparent that you have developed some odd hobbies over the years. There's the secret passages that riddle the house and the one-way mirrors in the bathrooms, and extensive evidence that you have used these for crafty jerkoff purposes. There's the fragments of your diary, alluding to a catastrophic expedition to Mexico your sons accompanied you on, during which you seem to have had an encounter with an Orb much like the McGuffin of the original game. And there's the radical improvements you seem to have made to the meat processing factory since you got back - improvements that include expansive underground sections and highly advanced machinery.

And then there's your newfound outlook on the world as expressed in your diary, a sort of proto-fascism combined with the resolute conviction of Victorian industrialists that there is no problem on Earth that doesn't have an engineering solution. For instance, there's clearly too many poor people around stinking up the joint, but during the span of months you don't remember you hit on the perfect solution: farm them, herd them, and slaughter them like pigs.

And who better to help you than your own army of human-piggy hybrids?

What follows next is just about similar enough to the broad brushstrokes of the original game, at least superficially, to justify A Machine For Pigs as a sequel rather than an entirely standalone game. Once again, you are descending into the darkened depths to accomplish something you may be better off not confronting; once again, the amnesia concept allows you some degree of identification with the main character (since they discover things as you discover them) whilst their diaries alienate you from the character's despicable backstory; once again, obstacles to exploration include not just puzzles and labyrinthine terrain, but also monsters that you cannot fight and must instead hide from if you are to survive. That said, the Chinese Room find ways to twist every one of those features in order to create a different experience this time around.

The changes to the gameplay are the most obvious feature and have excited the most comment. For starters, you no longer have to keep track of lamp oil - your lantern never goes out unless it is scripted to, and I only noticed that happening once, at the very end - and indeed inventory items as a whole have been abolished (though the journal which records Mandus' thoughts and objectives as you go along, and which compiles all the documentary evidence that you discover, is still intact). Furthermore, the blue graphics filter previously used to indicate when you were in darkness is gone, and the sanity system is entirely scrapped - you don't lose sanity for standing about in the dark, and you don't lose it for looking at the monster pigs.

The sum effect of all this is that the game provokes less outbursts of pants-crapping panic than its predecessor did. You’re rarely scrabbling around desperately looking for a hiding place, because there’s nothing stopping you just lurking about in the dark and shadows and other hiding places are plentiful. The pigs seem less dangerous than their counterparts in the original game - there’s less of them, for instance, and they seem less persistent in their searches for you when they do notice your presence, and when one of them finds you and clobbers you you just wake up elsewhere on the level. Granted, I did jump the first time I ran face-to-face with one of the things and I was still concerned about them discovering me, though I suspect a lot of that is a learned reaction from the first game and the expectations it trained me with; I do wonder whether someone who hadn’t played the previous game wouldn’t have a very different reaction to A Machine For Pigs.

The truncation of the gameplay extends beyond the monsters, inventory and sanity mechanics. The actual gameworld is substantially less interactive than the original Amnesia’s. There are less cupboards to open and desks to rummage through and small items to pick up and throw around and generally less physics engine-implemented stuff. (This also reduces the hide-and-seek gameplay, because there aren’t actually any wardrobes to hide in.) This has a tendency to streamline and truncate the exploration process, which helps keep the game moving but at the same time is likely to disappoint people who liked the tactile elements of the original Amnesia. Weirdly, they seem to have half-assed this process; I could support it better if they had made it so that only items integral to puzzles or which conceal clues and journal entries can be interacted with, but as it stands they sometimes make very odd decisions about what things you can pick up and what you can’t - I found at least one place in a game where you couldn’t pick up a book, but you could interact with the desk mat the book was sitting on, creating a weird situation where you could slide out the desk mat from underneath the utterly immobile book and mess around with it but the book itself stayed absolutely stationary. Further curtailing exploration is the fact that the game is a lot more linear and has less sprawling areas demanding extensive exploration than the original.

This is all in keeping with the sort of experience The Chinese Room want to deliver. Whereas Amnesia: the Dark Descent featured all the fun of exploring a haunted house, including huddling at the bottom of a wardrobe averting your eyes from the outside and hoping that the whatever-it-is outside is going to go away, the horror A Machine For Pigs relies on is based more on the slow buildup of sinister revelations than it is jump scares. (As The Chinese Room expected, this has annoyed the people who like to make YouTube Let’s Play videos from Amnesia games, because jump scares are good for Let’s Plays and slowly building horror isn’t.) Part of the reason the sanity system is gone is to enable you to, if you dare, directly look at and confront the horrors of the game. The name “Oswald Mandus” is, of course, a fairly overt Ozymandias reference, and it would be hard to mightily look upon Oswald’s works and properly despair if you can’t actually look at them.

Indeed, there are some parts which work quite well precisely because you are able to properly look at the piggies. There’s one bit, quite late in the game, where you can spy on a piggy playing with a doll’s house and some blocks, and it’s disturbing partly because the game has hinted all the way that those are your kids’ toys, and partly because it implies that the pigs aren’t the mere bestial engines of destruction that they seem to be at first, or the mere worker drones for the factory they are revealed to be later, but in fact seem to have their own interests and pastimes and life outside of the context of their work. If a young piggy has sufficient imagination to play with a doll’s house, then what does this imply about the rest of the piggies? You would get none of these implications if the sanity system of the old game had been turned on because you wouldn’t have been able to pick up on such fine details.

Similarly, the truncation of exploration is appropriate both to the general experience The Chinese Room are offering and the themes of the game. Whereas The Dark Descent gave you a sprawling haunted house, A Machine For Pigs is essentially the videogame equivalent of a ghost train experience - you’re going on a mostly linear journey which is going to show you a series of disquieting things, which if you stop and think and put them all together come together to build a monstrous picture. One of the things the game pulls off well is giving you a slow drip-drip-drip of revelations whilst at the same time not treating you like an idiot. It figures that you probably already guessed from the opening lines that the main character’s offed his own kids, so the kids are presented as strange spectral presences and every scrap you find where he’s talking about them is positively dripping with irony, as are all the interactions and documents relating to other plot twists.

Equally, the game manages the difficult trick of making the progress of the revelations incremental whilst at the same time not seeming coy; every new thing you discover about the protagonist and what he and the mysterious Engineer have been up to is appallingly vivid and direct, but there’s always a new outrage, always further hubris, always a greater act of audacity which puts everything that came before it in the shade. At the end of the game, the final revelations proudly straddle the line between sheer dribbling lunacy and somehow making sense in the context of what has gone before. For instance, murdering your kids is terrible; sacrificing your kids in a weird cultural appropriation of Aztec human sacrifice rituals in order to gain the power to create a machine god deep under London driven by the dark half of your soul is delusional; murdering your kids to do all that because you had a precognitive vision of them dying in the trenches at the Somme makes a bizarre sort of sense if you’re the sort of hyper-utilitarian who believes that a childhood death with purpose is better to a useless death as an adult, though equally that’s not the sort of logic followed by people who make especially healthy and functional fathers.

Following a linear track also means that the player is effectively walking along an assembly line much in keeping with those deployed in the meat factory you spend most of your time exploring, and curtailing exploration and making the hide and seek elements less difficult helps you progress through the game at a brisk pace. This means you will probably finish the game fairly quickly, but on the plus side means you probably will actually finish the game. Whilst I’m not convinced it has very much replay value and on the whole I need somewhat more persuasion to convince me that this sort of ghost train experience really needs to be a full-price product rather than a fan mod, I found that the pacing of the game really kept me rivited throughout the time I was playing it. A particular nice touch is that what “puzzles” are thrown into the game are really matters of repairing, operating, or sabotaging the machinery of the factory in a way which seems to follow the logic of the way the technology is laid out, which was quite nice - nothing ruins immersion like a game asking you to solve anagrams or riddles or to deal with a machine which makes you think “why the fuck would anyone ever design their headquarters like this?”

On that note, although some would categorise this as a steampunk game, it doesn’t really go for the steampunk aesthetic. Machinery is not used for flavour or whimsy, but is invariably there with a purpose - Kate Beaton’s Brunel would not find the aesthetic upsetting - and it also doesn’t have the weird steampunk thing where the aesthetic of the technology is inserted everywhere. The mansion is laid out like an actual home with a distinct absence of large pipes and flywheels everywhere, as is the church and the streets outside. (Also, the factory seems to not run on a conventional steam engine, but an actual honest to fuckery nuclear reactor, and there seems to be lots of electrical experiments involved as well, and if the point of steampunk is to extrapolate directions in which Victorian-era technology could go whilst still retaining a Victorian, steam-based aesthetic, incorporating Tesla coils and nuclear piles kind of directly goes against that.) If this is steampunk, it decidedly isn’t steampunk of the popular sort where pandering to cosplayers and looking cool for the sake of looking cool is considered the hallmark of a deep narrative experience, and consequently it is steampunk of a variety which is much more suited to my own tastes.

Specifically, it only makes sense to call A Machine For Pigs steampunk if you think it is possible to have steampunk which does not, even slightly, fetishise the Victorian era. One of the other things that Pigs does which Descent didn’t is commit wholeheartedly to alienating the player from the main character. Mandus regularly talks to himself and notes things in the journal which clearly arise from an internal thought process you’re not always privy to rather than being reflected entirely in the action you have so far witnessed. Things will often be obvious to the player that are not to Mandus. All this seems to suggest to me that the Chinese Room aren’t trying to go for the tired out complicity thing with A Machine For Pigs, if not directly: we never feel responsible personally as players for anything Mandus has done, but we are appalled by it anyway. In the Playpen, Alasdair said that the game felt inert to him, and I think that sense of stasis is intentional on some level: Mandus’ big agenda is, as the “Ozymandias” tone of his name implies, to carve the social order as envisaged by capitalist robber barons in stone for all time and to save the world from the nightmare of the 20th Century - which, in practice, means taking the nightmare of the 19th Century to a delirious extreme.

The general theme here seems to be the same as that of Moorcock’s The Warlord of the Air, which is that whilst the World Wars were abhorrent (and to be fair I don’t think either the Chinese Room or Moorcock would go as far as to say that those wars were actually a good thing), at the same time something needed to come along to overturn the dominance of the European colonial powers, otherwise the 20th Century would have been even worse than it actually was for the vast majority of humanity, and the World Wars certainly did the job. There’s a decidedly intentional irony that in trying to prevent the horrors of the 20th Century, Mandus has produced a system grotesquely reminiscent of the absolute worst; after all, the Holocaust was unique amongst pogroms not simply because of the sheer number of victims but in the mechanisation and industrialisation of the process which made those numbers possible in the first place. (I suspect “Oswald Mandus” is meant to be reminiscent not only of Ozymandias but Oswald Mosley.) Either way, the distance that is established between us and Mandus prompts us to scrutinise Mandus, and in the process of doing that really confront what happens when the entrenched bourgeoisie becomes Church, state, judge, jury and executioner above the citizenry. It’s no accident that the action of the game takes place on New Year’s Eve of 1899, and it’s no accident that the game ends with Mandus going back to his Aztec inspirations and making a human sacrifice of himself to ensure that the Sun will come up tomorrow and to set the clocks running again.

In some respects, it qualifies as a rather more cutting takedown of libertarianism than Bioshock; whereas Bioshock targeted Ayn Rand-esque Objectivism, which is basically a fringe cult of libertarianism, A Machine For Pigs turns its sights squarely on a central plank of libertarianism - that the state doesn’t need to be involved in all sorts of spheres of power because philanthropist business interests unfettered by the constraints of the state can do through charity what is presently accomplished through welfare, ignoring the fact that without government oversight said charity can become decidedly politically motivated and partial. The core doublethink of libertarianism is to imagine that power exerted by the state is inherently bad, but power exerted by any other body is inherently good - where, that is, the libertarians in question even acknowledge that actually some form of coercive power can be exercised by private institutions at all. (“You’re not forced to work for We Eat The Flesh Of Underperforming Employees, Inc.; you’re perfectly free to quit your job and starve in the streets because we took away unemployment benefit and severance pay. Oh, you just want a holiday? Too bad mandatory leave allowances were abolished too…”) In this case it makes complete sense for the Chinese Room to lay out the game as they have, because they are essentially laying out an argument step by step, as well as building up the sheer vertigo-inducing monstrosity of Mandus’ hubristic vision as they go.

That isn’t to say that the game is dry going. The Chinese Room discover a flair for the dramatic and weird which wasn’t evident in Dear Esther, as well as showing sufficient writing skills to craft something which sticks in your head well after you play it. Two sections in particular have haunted me since I played the game; the first is the part where the sheer enormity of what Mandus has done becomes apparent, as the Machine for Pigs roars into life and an army of angry piggies invades the surface world. You go through the streets hearing the sounds of this distant warfare and catching these appalling little glimpses of it outside the corner of your eye, and it not only makes the stakes of this game feel much higher than in the previous game - ultimately, the action of The Dark Descent doesn’t actually mean anything to anyone outside of the castle - but also marks the tipping point where Oswald’s grotesque vision ceases to be a private obsession festering away inside his head and only affecting those unlucky enough to come into his sphere of influence and becomes a stark threat to everyone. It’s also the point where the intelligence within the machine reveals it (for reasons you understand later on) to be just as nuts as Oswald is, and the point where the creepily fascistic mumbling about creating a new, orderly world abandons the pretence of being an ultimately rational position arrived at by a logic that works from misguided postulates and reveals itself for the shouting, maniacal, bloodthirsty irrationality it really is. (No matter how much Julius Evola and other pseudo-philosophers you dress it up in to try and dignify it, no matter how much evolutionary psychology you grasp for to justify it, fascism is basically the politics of the temper tantrum.)

The other major part which really sticks with me is the final levels underneath London, where you end up discovering vast, cavernous areas which physically speaking simply can’t exist in our universe. It is strongly hinted earlier on that some of Oswald’s early experiments in using the Orb’s technology resulted in some piggies being disjointed in space and time, flickering between one reality and the next, and the very structure of the concluding movements of the game suggests that at some point undocumented in his diaries Oswald actually breached and colonised this other dimension; there are parts where you straight-up teleport and things build down there which you just couldn’t fit under London. But there’s a bunch of other parts which haunt me too, like the unnerving discovery of Mandus’ peeping tom activities or the piggy playing with the doll’s house. Like the best literary horror authors, the Chinese Room have an excellent knack for presenting you with imagery and incidents which stick with you and prey on you even after the story’s wrapped up.

Whenever I play a very linear game, I always come back to the question of “did this really need to be a game?”, and this often goes double when it’s done by a games-as-art outfit like The Chinese Room. In this case, I think presenting this story as a game is justified. The extent to which you have to piece together the narrative yourself by careful reading of the diary fragments you discover during the game and the journal entries Oswald makes as you progress means that shifting the narrative to a non-interactive medium would be a non-trivial affair, and there’s just enough joy of exploration to be had to make what interactivity the game does offer seem worthwhile. That’s another reason why the game’s emphasis on confronting and acknowledging horrors rather than flinching away from them really works, in the sense that it encourages you to stop and stare at things which catch your eye, whereas of course in a book or a film the extent to which the narration or camera focuses on something is out of your hands. As far as electronic ghost train rides go, A Machine For Pigs is excellent stuff and is one of the few horror games out there whose endings I don’t find anticlimactic, the descent into physical and mental incoherence and delirium and the parting shot of Oswald hearing the piggies singing to each other as their weird underground world falls into darkness and inevitable extinction closes in is a particularly nice touch.

Also, anything which can overcome the inherent cuteness of piggies and make them scary is worth saluting. Oh, piggies. Is there any animal I simultaneously want to cuddle and eat more than you?
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Comments (go to latest)
Dan H at 16:26 on 2013-11-27
Is there any animal I don’t simultaneously want to cuddle and eat more than you?


Pigs are a terribly confusing combination of adorable and delicious.
Alasdair Czyrnyj at 02:00 on 2013-12-02
I'm actually a little surprised you liked this, Arthur. I played it back in October, and I started out with high hopes, but as I went on I just got more and more...irritated with the whole thing. I was trying to put together something to express my opinion, but it didn't really work out, so I'll hit the high points.

I think the first thing that set me against the game was TCR's narrative voice. I've always said I've preferred gawping at the scenery to dealing with gameplay, but I've been forced to reassess my opinions. When I play games, I like to keep my hands busy with the shooting or the base deployment while my mind and eyes wander, take in the scenery, and form my own associations. With Hamnesia, all that gameplay has been stripped to the bone, leaving nothing but the observation and contemplation. The problem is that when you make that the primary goal of the game, it destroys the illusion that the game world is an authorless one, that your observations are your own. I began to feel like all of Mandus' diary notes and narration were TCR's way of lecturing their story to me, and if there's one thing I cannot stand any more, it's lectures.

To make it worse, everything TCR did caused me to lose confidence in their abilities. There were the clichés; when I found Mandus' secret passages, my first thought was "oh boy, a Victorian lord who is a mountain of repressed sexual hunger! What a bold and controversial creation in this, the year of our fucking Lord Two Thousand And Mother-Fucking-Thirteen!!!. There was the stuff I thought was just goofy, like Tronpig and the whole porcine apocalypse setpiece.

But the worst thing, the thing that still sticks in my craw a month on, is that fact that all of the greatest horrors of the game, the butchery of the London populace and the murder of Oswald's sons, are not conveyed through visuals, but through fucking. notes. Given that this is a video game, a visual medium, this is inexcusable. Quite frankly, it strikes me as artistic cowardice. In Silent Hill 2, when they wanted to show James' sexual frustration, they didn't leave notes; they had a muscly butcher monster make sweet Christian love to a diseased vagina with legs! In Rule of Rose, they had a lot of notes alluded to the organized bullying at the orphanage, but they also had a cutscene where a leering fat girl shoves a rat on a stick into Jennifer's face. If you want to shock me, use an image, put it on the screen! Use the eye, bypass the brain, and hit the soul! Otherwise you're just wasting both our times.

I must admit, though, I never thought to connect Mandus' great design with robber-baron capitalism. I was spending most of my time trying to fit the game into what I knew of the cycles of civilization and mythology, modernity and the reactions to it, and various conceptions of the apocalypse. I've had a lot of trouble, partially because I was so unengaged with the material, but mostly because Hamnesia did not seem to have any opinion of the apocalypse beyond an intensely bourgeois fear of the whole business, manifesting in an ardent desire to repress the whole thing and get life back to normal as fast as possible. To be frank, that's a sentiment I can pick off any newsstand. I don't want to know why it was bad; I want to know why people thought it was good, and the game wasn't all that interested in telling me.

I'd also like to mention that if Oswald's sons could return from the Somme and take a tour through their father's machine, I think the two of them would be very unimpressed.

Still, I must thank TCR for one thing: they convinced me that I would have to be a fool to spend actual money on the Stanley Parable remake.
Arthur B at 10:57 on 2013-12-02
I'm actually a little surprised you liked this, Arthur.

I love that you started this comment in this way because it reads like I am a bad schoolboy and you are a stern headmaster expressing disappointment at my choice of reading material. ;)

The problem is that when you make that the primary goal of the game, it destroys the illusion that the game world is an authorless one, that your observations are your own.

I don't think the game world here was meant to feel authorless, though; it's quite clearly supposed to be a time and a place that Oswald has forcefully stamped his own will on. Likewise, I think it's important to presenting a character study of Mandus to offer observations that clearly emanate from him (such as the diary fragments and his journal).

There were the clichés; when I found Mandus' secret passages, my first thought was "oh boy, a Victorian lord who is a mountain of repressed sexual hunger! What a bold and controversial creation in this, the year of our fucking Lord Two Thousand And Mother-Fucking-Thirteen!!!.

I think that's a cliché that has a significant role, though; it's an early revelation before we even really get to the piggies which is useful in conveying something of what Mandus is actually like, rather than the way he presents himself in the diary fragments (which ISTR allude to the peeping tom nonsense but dresses it up in such romantic terms - and, in particular, fails to note where Mandus is actually observing his bathing ladyfriend from, which rather changes the tone of the thing when you actually discover the one-way mirror).

Re: porcine apocalypse/Tronpig: you say "goofy", I say "delirious". I think the game offers a very deliberate spiral from "edge of realistic" to "completely illucid" which I quite like.

But the worst thing, the thing that still sticks in my craw a month on, is that fact that all of the greatest horrors of the game, the butchery of the London populace and the murder of Oswald's sons, are not conveyed through visuals, but through fucking. notes.

Nope, sorry, this I actually can't chalk down to a difference of opinion. You don't actually get a visual here of Mandus plunging a knife into his kids' hearts or him turning human beings into sausages, but neither do you actually watch James smothering Mary in Silent Hill 2; what you do get here is a plethora of minor details which when you add them up allude directly to those things. The various blink-and-you'll-miss-them hallucinations of the children, the reconstruction of the Temple and the heart-extraction, the cages on the beds which is the first really creepy thing you note, these aren't accidents but direct allusions to what's going on with Mandus which seem weird and out of place when you first see them and take on a horrible context once you've put everything together. (Hell, the conveyor belt sequence manages to combine the reduction of human beings to products in an assembly line, the betrayal of the kids, and the forging of the pigs into one single image).

I was spending most of my time trying to fit the game into what I knew of the cycles of civilization and mythology, modernity and the reactions to it, and various conceptions of the apocalypse.

Honestly didn't get that, though possibly that's because I tend not to believe in the whole "cycles" thing.

mostly because Hamnesia did not seem to have any opinion of the apocalypse beyond an intensely bourgeois fear of the whole business, manifesting in an ardent desire to repress the whole thing and get life back to normal as fast as possible.

I think you are ascribing to TCR an attitude which the game actually overtly and directly ascribes to Mandus. Manifesting an "intensely bourgeois fear of the whole business" is the sum total of the point; Mandus is the fucking bourgeoisie and everything he does from Mexico onwards is a specific manifestation of precisely that ardent desire, the central irony being that by fleeing from one apocalypse he ends up crafting an even worse one.

I'd also like to mention that if Oswald's sons could return from the Somme and take a tour through their father's machine, I think the two of them would be very unimpressed.

I don't get what you're driving at here. Is it that the machine isn't much like the Somme? That's true, but neither was Dachau.
Robinson L at 15:00 on 2014-01-24
Coming in for yet another installment of Robinson Comments on a Review of a Movie Book Game he has Never and Probably Will Never Watch Read Play:

whilst the World Wars were abhorrent (and to be fair I don’t think either the Chinese Room or Moorcock would go as far as to say that those wars were actually a good thing), at the same time something needed to come along to overturn the dominance of the European colonial powers, otherwise the 20th Century would have been even worse than it actually was for the vast majority of humanity, and the World Wars certainly did the job

That does sound like a point that is 1) worth making, and 2) probably true. I still have no intention of every playing Machine for Pigs, but it's one more reason for reading The Warlord of the Air someday.

the Holocaust was unique amongst pogroms not simply because of the sheer number of victims but in the mechanisation and industrialisation of the process which made those numbers possible in the first place

To go off completely on a tangent, my Postcolonial Theory teacher once raised another uniqueness in discussion. Every other genocide of the past century or two, he claimed, supported the economic self-interest of the perpetrators. The Nazis alone were so fanatic that they perpetrated genocide in direct opposition to their self-interest.

The core doublethink of libertarianism is to imagine that power exerted by the state is inherently bad, but power exerted by any other body is inherently good

Well, not quite - power exerted by any other body which constitutes an alien actor in The Market (such as a labor union) is also inherently bad. Power exerted by any body which constitutes a "market force" is either inherently good, or impossible by definition as you say.

(“You’re not forced to work for We Eat The Flesh Of Underperforming Employees, Inc.; you’re perfectly free to quit your job and starve in the streets because we took away unemployment benefit and severance pay. Oh, you just want a holiday? Too bad mandatory leave allowances were abolished too…”)

Thanks for this. I hate it when conservatives/market libertarians/anarcho-captialists argue that private enterprises, absent state interference, do not or would be prevented from exerting coercive power, for exactly this reason.

No matter how much Julius Evola and other pseudo-philosophers you dress it up in to try and dignify it, no matter how much evolutionary psychology you grasp for to justify it, fascism is basically the politics of the temper tantrum.

Aaand another one for the good ol' quote file. Thank you, Arthur, that was beautiful.
Arthur B at 22:21 on 2014-01-24
The Nazis alone were so fanatic that they perpetrated genocide in direct opposition to their self-interest.

True enough, though arguably the Holocaust was in perfect alignment with their self-interest from their point of view. A central plank of Nazism is that Jews and other undesirables are a moral and social cancer on society and weaken the nation through their parasitic presence, and if they're purged then the society that's left behind will be prouder and stronger and superior.

Obviously, it didn't work that way, but if you actually believed that shit you could have probably convinced yourself that the death camps were necessary in order to eliminate the dangerous elements who'd have handed over Germany to the Soviets on a platter if they had their way.

Well, not quite - power exerted by any other body which constitutes an alien actor in The Market (such as a labor union) is also inherently bad. Power exerted by any body which constitutes a "market force" is either inherently good, or impossible by definition as you say.

Well, this is where the implications of libertarian theory and what libertarians actually like or want diverge. In principle, in a full-bore libertarian society there's absolutely nothing wrong with forming a labour union. After all, your labour is a commodity you offer on the free market like anything else, you have every right to engage in collective negotiation if you think that will get you a better deal. Sure, because there's no labour laws employers might want to hold out for the shittiest possible conditions, but equally because nobody's enforcing contracts any more (because the libertarians disbanded almost all the functions of government) there's nothing stopping employees who are disgruntled walking away from a job they dislike. (Indeed, libertarians love the "if you don't like it you can always leave and work for someone else" angle.) In principle, there'd be no point in anyone not joining a union, because without government to protect your rights as a worker the only alternative is for the workers to organise themselves for their own protection, and the more people who join the unions in a perfectly libertarian society the stronger their bargaining power and the more concessions the bosses will have to give.

For obvious reasons (because they're right-wing shills who like the idea of being Randian unfettered billionaires), libertarians don't like this line of argument. But equally, the original libertarian playground of the industrialists in the 19th Century spawned unions and socialism in the first place, so I don't see how they can expect those ideas to come back in a big way once people realise that nobody else is going to protect their rights.

Of course, back then industrialists could just hire detectives, thugs, and private armies to smack down union activity, which I guess is what at least some of the libertarians are counting on.
Robinson L at 15:30 on 2014-01-28
arguably the Holocaust was in perfect alignment with their self-interest from their point of view.

Sure, you could say that, although in context I understood "self-interest" to be interpreted very much in the Machiavellian realpolitik sense of "helping one to accumulate or strengthen their political/economic power." Every other genocide of recent times, he asserted, has bolstered the perpetrators' political/economic power (even if there was an ideological dimension as well). The Nazis, by contrast, were so swept up in their ideology that they slaughtered a potential workforce even while they were getting their asses kicked by Russia, France, Britain, the US, and any other Allied countries that haven't made it into US history books, thus directly undermining their interests from a realpolitik perspective. (And again, that's according to my professor - I'm not well-versed enough in the history to make an argument from my own knowledge.)

In principle, in a full-bore libertarian society there's absolutely nothing wrong with forming a labour union.

Oh, I was going beyond labor unions with that little thought experiment - as you say, it's totally plausible in a hypothetical libertarian society - I'm thinking more along the lines of worker's co-ops. In a labor union model, my friends and I have better leverage in bargaining with the boss(es), but they're still in the picture, and still making profits.

Whereas in a co-op model, my friends and I say, "actually, we don't need bosses. Thanks all the same, but we can totally do this shit ourselves," and open a collectively-owned, collectively-managed business. Which I have to think would be able to out-compete most top-down style businesses if for no other reason than job satisfaction.

I was thinking that this in turn would make it functionally impossible for anyone to get rich (which seems to be an article of faith for most libertarians, as you say) - but now I turn it over a bit more, I suppose a co-op could be so successful in such a society that at it could turn a decent profit, even split many more ways than under the top-down model.

they're right-wing shills who like the idea of being Randian unfettered billionaires

I've had some passive and active interactions with a couple of market libertarians and anarcho-capitalists over the past couple of years (including at least one who identifies as a free-market anti-capitalist who freely criticizes Rand) and although I'm admittedly a pretty bad judge of character, I have to believe at least some of them are sincere. They may believe that some level of stratification is inevitable and desirable, but they also believe in playing fair and don't look down on the majority of their fellow humans. (Many of them will happily criticize large corporations for much the same labor and environmental issues that leftists tend to bring up.)
Arthur B at 16:09 on 2014-01-28
(And again, that's according to my professor - I'm not well-versed enough in the history to make an argument from my own knowledge.)

I don't think your professor and I are actually disagreeing - it's pretty clear in hindsight how diverting soldiers and infrastructure for the purpose of driving down your population (and therefore your pool of manpower) didn't exactly help the war effort; all I'm saying is that if you are a Nazi the way to accumulate/strengthen your political and economic power is to exterminate undesirables who sap both. This didn't work, but that's because Naziism has more in common with a paranoid fantasy than a political philosophy. I don't think there's a clear view of whether the consensus amongst the Holocaust perpetrators was "This is kind of shafting us, but we kind of have to do it for The Cause" or "We'll be stronger than ever once we've killed all these people!".

Whereas in a co-op model, my friends and I say, "actually, we don't need bosses. Thanks all the same, but we can totally do this shit ourselves," and open a collectively-owned, collectively-managed business. Which I have to think would be able to out-compete most top-down style businesses if for no other reason than job satisfaction.

The big issue would be actually obtaining the supplies to actually run the business in question, mind. If we pushed the libertarianism button tomorrow then you'd rapidly find your co-op frozen out of almost any business which required a significant level of investment to operate. Remember, one of the few functions of government under libertarianism (as opposed to outright anarchism) is to defend property rights - few libertarians propose legalising banditry - so you'd still have resistance to people seizing the means of production by force. In a market libertarian society whoever has the most money will be able to exert it in order to project their power the furthest - think corporations with private armies.

What stops co-ops from radically outcompeting conventional businesses in the current market?

I've had some passive and active interactions with a couple of market libertarians and anarcho-capitalists over the past couple of years (including at least one who identifies as a free-market anti-capitalist who freely criticizes Rand) and although I'm admittedly a pretty bad judge of character, I have to believe at least some of them are sincere.

I'm sure you can't be a worse judge of character than a market libertarian or anarcho-capitalist who thinks that a libertarian society serves anyone other than large corporations in the first place.
Robinson L at 00:30 on 2014-01-29
This didn't work, but that's because Naziism has more in common with a paranoid fantasy than a political philosophy.

Oh sure. And no, I don't think you're necessarily in disagreement at all.

The interesting thing to me, though, is not so much that the Nazi ideology was completely bugf*ck delusional or that they were fanatically devoted to it. From a contemporary vantage point, that's pretty obvious. But I think it's also obvious that many other regimes which have committed horrible atrocities have shared those two characteristics - and yet for some reason, none of them pursued their paranoid fantasies to the extent of taking a metaphorical bazooka to their own foot the way the Nazis did.

It's like Dan's most recent comment on the Superhero marketing article: "Indeed you could argue that part of the reasons that unjust systems perpetuate is that the irrational decisions of people in power reinforce that power just as certainly as if they had acted rationally in order to increase their own power." And I would say this is probably true ... except, apparently, for the Nazis.

I'm sure you can't be a worse judge of character than a market libertarian or anarcho-capitalist who thinks that a libertarian society serves anyone other than large corporations in the first place.

I'm not sure if it's intentional, but there's two ways to read that.

On which note: would you really find someone who sincerely holds such a view significantly more delusional than someone who sincerely believes that it's possible to successfully defeat and overthrow outright fascism nonviolently? /playful
Arthur B at 00:49 on 2014-01-29
I don't think I can meaningfully answer the question, it's like asking whether fire-breathing treasure-hoarding dragons in the Smaug mode are substantially less likely than Tinkerbell.
Robinson L at 03:30 on 2014-01-29
I do believe in fairies! I do! I do!

In any case, Arthur, I take your vote of confidence in the accuracy of my self-assessment in the spirit it was intended ... whatever that spirit may actually be.
Daniel F at 13:17 on 2014-01-29
Um, isn't it a bit much to bring up an old discussion for the sole purpose of mocking one of its participants? I don't think Arkan's posts were delusional.
Arthur B at 13:24 on 2014-01-29
Um, isn't it a bit much to bring up an old discussion for the sole purpose of mocking one of its participants?

Robinson = Arkan; I wasn't reading mockery so much as Robinson engaging in a mildly self-deprecating callback to a previous disagreement we've had.
Daniel F at 14:03 on 2014-01-29
Oh, right. Thanks for the clarification: that looked quite mean otherwise!
Robinson L at 15:15 on 2014-01-29
Yes, sorry for the confusion, there; I was playing around with an ambiguity in one of Arthur's earlier comments.

I considered linking to another post I'd made after getting my Ferretbrain id which expressed similar sentiments, but the old comment just seemed to work best.
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