Frequent correspondent TGGP has a new blog, and I encourage all and sundry to visit. If you read the comments here at UR, you know TGGP. If you don’t, I can’t imagine why not.
TGGP after the last post wrote: All of your other posts claiming to be subversive were rather laughable and reminded me of Jim Goad’s The Underground is a Lie. This is serious though: The Polygon manufactures racial animosity by recruiting minorities as its Stasi.
This is typical of the fellow. He insults you brutally and then offers you a cookie. My guess is that he learned this tactic from watching “The Dog Whisperer,” with Cesar Millan. As a commenter, TGGP is sort of like a demented cowboy karate sensei, who teaches movement and technique by firing live rounds at his students’ feet. We bloggers are the students, and we deal with it only because otherwise, we would look weak. As Eliezer Yudkowsky, the Kwisatz Haderach of the Singularity set, puts it: our wish is to ourselves become as strong! And here at UR, we are nothin’ if not strong.
Okay. Anyway. Thank you, TGGP, for that very pithy summary. “The Polygon manufactures racial animosity by recruiting minorities as its Stasi.” Think about that one for a moment, folks. Please do not accept this proposition on its face. It is probably untrue. It is almost certainly inaccurate. It may even be a devious and evil lie. (It would sound even more devious and evil if it were translated into Latin. Here at UR, it’s never too Da Vinci Code.)
Let’s hold this pithy summary aside for the moment. Just kind of let it sit. And consider another question: what kinds of offenses justify regime change? In a normal, Western liberal democracy, not Iraq and not Indonesia and not Sierra Leone, but the US or Sweden or Belgium, what would a government have to do, for the consensus of its population to be that this institution is irretrievably corrupt, and needs to be completely replaced?
Let’s describe a change of this sort as a reboot. In a reboot, the existing government, including all formally unofficial organizations that may in fact have become quasiofficial, is fired. They are not put up against a wall and shot, they are not torn to shreds by a mob in the street, they are not even harassed by jeering protesters. They are simply discharged, and lustrated – that is, prohibited from holding any future official position.
For example, Nazi Germany was rebooted. After 1945, anyone who had been associated with the government, in any way, under the Third Reich had to receive a Persilschein, a political clearance (Persil being a brand of soap) to hold any position of responsibility, private or public. At least in the West, ex-Nazis actually got off quite lightly. (One way to see that the Allies were the good guys and the Nazis were the bad guys is to look at how the latter would have treated the former after a similarly unconditional victory. Okay, I guess, there was a little bit of slave labor. But it was comparatively minor.)
Various levels of lustration have gone down in Eastern Europe since 1989. Poland is in the midst of a lustration controversy right now – many people who were successful and influential in Communist Poland have, perhaps unsurprisingly, become successful and influential again. D’oh! But nothing quite like the Nazi reboot has been implemented in the 20th century, though in the 19th perhaps the demise of the Confederacy comes close.
It’s clear that Communism and National Socialism were more criminal than Universalism – though the latter lives, and perhaps its most dastardly deeds yet await it. It’s also clear that a murderer is worse than a rapist, and a rapist is worse than a thief. So what? These kinds of comparisons only take us so far.
Instead, as all too often here at UR, we must plunge into philosophy. We must open the foamy chambers of the lungs, and descant. Please breathe and prepare yourself, gentlemen. We are in for the twisted and savage part of the passage. No Virgil will appear to bother us, but I’ve arranged Hunter S. Thompson for the evening.
What are the criteria for a reboot? What offenses must a government commit before it deserves to go the way of Enron, E.F. Hutton, and the Confederate States of America? How bad does this bad boy have to be? Where should we set the bar and say, no lower? I’d like to think we can answer this question from first principles, without reference to either Bush or Hitler.
Following the precedent of Nuremberg, most people who hate a government these days – for example, those who think of Bush as Hitler – tend to condemn it for its deeds. The approach is to draw up a list of crimes – war, torture, murder, ordering the Trilateral Commission to tell the Carlyle Group to hire Israeli art students to blow up the World Trade Center, whatever. Obviously anyone involved with these crimes must be impeached, prosecuted, imprisoned, chopped into little tiny pieces and put into a woodchipper, like in Fargo, and then burned to make sure. And after that we will all live in peace and be happy.
In my humble opinion, this procedure compares very poorly with a proper reboot, both in safety and effectiveness. But what of the criterion? Shouldn’t a government, like a private citizen, corporation, etc, be charged and prosecuted for any crimes it may commit?
Actually, I don’t think so, and here’s why.
The problem is that a government, unlike any private entity, is sovereign. This is not a mystical, ethical, or otherwise normative description. It is just a statement of military reality. A sovereign entity is one that cannot appeal to any higher government to protect it, and thus must defend itself by itself.
And it can be very hard to distinguish between foreign aggression and preemptive self-defence. Germans in 1939 were convinced that their nation was encircled and about to be attacked and destroyed by its enemies. So were Israelis in 1967. So were Northerners in 1861, who were sure they faced submission and tyranny at the hands of the Slave Power, which was plotting to extend the slave system from Cuba to New Hampshire. Was it? Well, it’s a little hard to tell these days.
Similarly, it can be hard to distinguish between domestic oppression and effective law enforcement. We’d like to believe that law can in all cases be preserved by law alone, but it just ain’t so. If you’re invaded by a foreign army, you can’t arrest them, read them their Miranda rights, and charge them with illegal immigration. SWAT teams are one thing, but civilized law enforcement in a polite society has no place for artillery or tank divisions.
Drawing a line is even harder in a civil war. If you’re tired of hearing about “hearts and minds” and you want an accurate picture of how to effectively suppress terrorist gangs, Col. Trinquier is your man. Unfortunately, his point is that the more fascist a counterinsurgency effort looks, the more effective it is. See also Dr. Luttwak, who basically agrees. If you compare Iraq to the Philippines, you can see the results. And if your solution is to err on the side of being less fascist – the rebels might just win. In which case you’ll really see some fascism.
And if economic crimes are your concern, distinguishing theft from taxation, and taxation from “user fees,” rents, monopoly grants, etc, etc, is just as problematic. And so on.
Fundamentally, when you accuse a sovereign entity of violating the law, you are making a moral judgment rather than a formal or procedural one, because there is no such thing as formal law at the sovereign level. There is nothing wrong with moral judgments. But there is also no axiomatic system that can compel multiple reasonable parties to concur on them.
This is why I prefer a different test for triggering a reboot: the level of systematic deception that a regime inflicts on its subjects. From a strictly military perspective, my belief is that any government of any modern state can maintain its own security without subjecting its population to any sort of a reality distortion field. Therefore, deceptive governments are not necessary. And therefore, they can be rebooted and replaced with honest ones.
For example, suppose Bush blew up the World Trade Center. I don’t believe this and I hope you don’t believe it, because frankly, it’s stupid. But suppose it was true.
From the Nuremberg point of view, the problem is that the evil Bush-Hitler regime killed 3000 Americans as part of its evil plot. From the corruption-centric point of view, the problem is that the EBHR distorted the public perception of a major historical event.
Note that if Bush blew up the World Trade Center and acknowledged it – if he went on TV the next day and said “yeah, man, that was bad, that was some crazy fun bad-ass shit, and let me tell you how I set it up. What are you going to do about it, punks?” – we’d be living not only in a completely different reality, but one in which it would be entirely pointless to think about any sort of a reboot, because obviously the EBHR is in charge and doesn’t care what we think.
Furthermore, the Nuremberg approach, in which we apply the metaphor of criminal justice to the actions of a sovereign government, implicitly invokes the legal concept of mens rea, the guilty mind. As prosecutors, we have to show not just that the EBHR’s actions result in wrong, but that they intentionally result in wrong. We have to distinguish between incompetently allowing Osama to blow up New York, and intentionally allowing Osama to blow up New York.
Using corruption as a criterion completely avoids this trap. The question is whether the government is propagating disinformation, not why the government is propagating disinformation. It’s not at all personal. Sincere believers are much better at spreading lies than evil conspirators. If our test only tests for the latter, it’s not a very good test.
Thus, we can ask: is the real meaning of diversity that “the Polygon manufactures racial animosity by recruiting minorities as its Stasi“? In other words, would Beatrice, our imaginary alien historian, write in one of her little reports, “one practice by which the postwar Universalist regime controlled its population was by granting privileges to minorities, making them dependents of the State, training them in Party doctrine, advancing them to positions of influence, and giving them the power to report their colleagues to the authorities”?
Again, if this was officially acknowledged policy, there would be no reason to question it. Whether or not it’s an accurate description of reality, it is clearly not officially acknowledged. I’d like to think readers can agree that if TGGP’s little summary (which he personally may or may not endorse) is an accurate description of reality, the discrepancy between this reality and the formal meaning of diversity is an adequate justification for a reboot.
There are two classes of major official disinformation, which I think should be considered separately. One, the government can distort history. Two, it can distort science.
Distortions of history, which we can call pseudohistory, are almost always matters of interpretation rather than matters of fact. History is the story of the past, up to and including yesterday. While pseudohistory sometimes contains factual errors, really good pseudohistory can construct a bogus narrative through selective omissions and distortions of perspective. The Dolchstoss legend is a typical confection of pseudohistory.
Pseudohistory always depends on concealment and deception. The only conceivable test for pseudohistory, at least the only test that I can think of, is that additional information can force you to reevaluate the pseudohistorical narrative. Again, for the government to be promoting pseudohistory, its official pseudohistorians do not need to think of themselves as concealing the real story. Mens rea is never required. Perhaps, for example, the pseudohistorians simply have no institutional incentive to challenge a generally-accepted pseudonarrative.
The problem with pseudohistory as a criterion for rebooting is that a historical narrative is inevitably a very subjective thing. Reasonable people can certainly disagree, for example, as to whether diversity is functioning as a system of political control and indoctrination. Perhaps the most suspicious fact is that this perspective, which strikes me as quite straightforward, is not readily available to most Americans, who indeed have few social or professional contexts in which it is prudent to even mention such an interpretation.
An easier form of disinformation to diagnose is pseudoscience. While I dislike the word science, if it means anything, it means an accurate and reproducible procedure for constructing the truth. Pseudoscience, therefore, is anything that pretends to be science and actually isn’t. Feynman’s essay on cargo cult science is required reading for anyone interested in the subject. The classic example of 20th-century pseudoscience is Lysenkoism.
Since I believe in separation of information and state, I believe it’s very easy for a government to avoid any implication in pseudohistory or pseudoscience. It can simply refuse to care what its citizens think, and separate itself from any activity that would involve the construction or propagation of “official truth.”
However, we live in a world which is full of all kinds of official truth. Since every human activity is fraught with error, some of it is certain to be wrong. If we want to construct an alarm which is meaningful, rather than one which goes off immediately and trivially, we have to distinguish between incidental and essential pseudohistory or pseudoscience.
Incidental disinformation is disinformation which can be corrected by simply realizing that it’s false, with only minor disruptions to the institutional structure of society. Essential disinformation is deeply embedded in society’s power structure, and cannot be corrected without substantial organizational changes.
For example, for a large part of the 20th century, official geologists denied Wegener’s theory of continental drift, and instead promoted theories of continental stasis which we now know to be erroneous. This was certainly pseudoscience. But the Republican Party was not implicated in promoting continental stasis as a way of gathering electoral support in Kansas and Missouri. Nor did the Democratic Party teach innocent little children in third grade that democracy is the best possible political system because it keeps America from sliding around. And so, while the plate-tectonics revolution certainly affected some geologists’ careers, no mobs had to storm the White House and rename it the Blackened Ruin. Therefore, continental drift was incidental rather than essential disinformation.
I think it’s pretty clear that diversity, if it is indeed best described as a mechanism of political control, is not in the incidental category. Essential pseudohistory or pseudoscience satisfies the full definition of corruption: profitable deception. For another example, if anthropogenic global warming turns out to be pseudoscience, it is getting very close to the essential line. We’re a little past the “whoops, sorry about that” point on this one.
Therefore, my reboot test is that a government should be rebooted if it systematically and successfully promotes essential pseudoscience or pseudohistory. I simply see no reason at all to tolerate this kind of crap. If there are only one or two examples, perhaps they can be corrected individually. Otherwise, it’s time to hit Control-Alt-Delete.
Again, rebooting doesn’t just mean replacing a few politicians. It means completely uninstalling the present government, and installing a new one from scratch. All laws, regulations, policies, procedures, and personnel from the old regime should be replaced.
The last point is critical. Frankly, a so-called reboot without a total lustration is like doing a heart transplant and then leaving a sponge in the aorta. It’s like painting “Fuck The Pope” on the side of the America’s Cup yacht and then realizing you did it in watercolor. It’s like having a date with Claudia Schiffer and not being able to get it up. Did you want to be pwned? Because by rebooting without lustrating, you’re certainly asking for it.
Total lustration, again, just means that no official of the old government can serve in the new government. It assigns a single bit to every member of the population: “an official of the old regime” or “not an official of the old regime.” The resulting database is small enough that you could store it on your average cellphone these days, but it’s critical (and it must be public information).
Here is why you have to lustrate: people being what they is, there has to be a government. Once your new government contains any employees of the old government, it’s very likely to end up containing most of them. In which case, why bother?
Lustration should always, in every conceivable circumstance, include an unconditional amnesty for all offenses committed in the course of official action under the old regime. No questions should be asked of anyone. If people want to tell their stories, they can. It is almost as essential for lustration to avoid show-trials as it is to lustrate in the first place.
Lustrating is sort of like cutting out a cancer. You want, as surgeons say, “good margins.” When in doubt, cut through healthy tissue. If there is any doubt of whether or not a person was associated with the former regime, mark that person official. After all, if he or she is capable of working productively for the benefit of others, surely the private sector can find room.
Lustrated officials have not been tried or convicted of any crime. No animus should be attached to them. They should receive any accrued pension benefits, preferably in a lump sum, so that there is no permanent relationship between them and the new government. If anything, these benefits should be increased, so that former officials – many of whom will be unsuitable for any productive employment – suffer no great or general hardship. Perhaps retraining grants should be made available.
Of course, I haven’t addressed the two hardest practical questions in any reboot: what the new government should look like, and how to get the old one to go away. Perhaps we’ll look at one of these next week.
(Update: see a discussion of the comments here.)