We start with the perception that USG, or Washcorp, is a problem. Its problem is that the interests Washcorp serves seem quite a good match for its own. They do not seem to match the interests of the residents of the territory Washcorp owns, central North America or Plainland. (Using these neutral names helps us separate ourselves from symbolic emotional attachments, which also serve Washcorp’s interest.)
The predictable result of this divergence in incentives is that Washcorp has become quite large, inefficient and intrusive. And it continues to grow. This bothers some of us. If it bothers you, please read on.
The traditional remedy is to persuade Plainlanders to use their collective democratic powers to elect a politician, such as Ron Paul, who promises to restructure Washcorp so that the result does in fact serve their interests. The typical promise is to replace the existing organization, which is the product of informal political evolution, with the formal design specified by the literal text of the Constitution.
There is no reason to think this remedy is effective. There are many reasons to think it is not. Thinking deductively: even if Dr. Paul is elected, the White House’s influence on the executive branch is small, its influence on the judicial branch is only effective after decades of continuous control, and its influence on the legislative branch is nil. (Elections can also replace the Congress, but incumbency rates indicate that this is extremely difficult, and partisan transitions seem to have minimal effect – perhaps due to the iron triangle effect.) Thinking inductively: all previous democratic attacks against the civil service, press and universities have failed, often with high backlash. Of course, if the remedy is ineffective, any energy invested in it serves the interests of Washcorp.
I propose a different strategy: persuading Plainlanders that Washcorp is totaled. It neither serves their interests, nor is realistically reformable. Their only practical option is to liquidate it. The only practical way to liquidate Washcorp is to spin off its 50 local subdivisions, or “states,” by restoring their sovereignty. If the new nations agree to honor Washcorp’s financial obligations, the transition can be relatively seamless. The obvious historical analogy is the liquidation of the Soviet Union, which I think most people would agree was a good thing.
For better or worse, Washcorp remains a democracy. If enough of its voters decide that it is totaled, they certainly have the power to liquidate it. In fact, because Washcorp is far more responsive to direct and instantaneous polls than indirect, periodic elections, sufficient public support for liquidation will probably cause it to liquidate itself. The liquidation of the Soviet Union did not follow elections. It preceded them.
Liquidation has one obvious advantage, which is that if it succeeds it is very hard to reverse. Given the historical evolution of Washcorp as it is today from what it was in 1789, I find this advantage quite compelling. Restoring the Old Republic has a nice sound to it, but the Old Republic developed – not without collateral damage – into what we have now.
It also has an obvious disadvantage. The proposition that Washcorp is totaled strikes most Plainlanders today as even more implausible than the proposition that they need to vote for Ron Paul. It seems impractical to persuade more than a small minority of Plainlanders to vote for Ron Paul. Persuading them to liquidate Washcorp must be even harder.
But is it? If you, dear reader, agree that Washcorp is totaled, you must agree that persuading anyone to agree with this proposition means persuading them to agree with the truth. Furthermore, you must agree that persuading Plainlanders to vote for Ron Paul means persuading them to agree with a fiction. Therefore, we must choose between propagating an unlikely fiction, and an even more unlikely truth.
Both problems are hard. But I suspect the latter is easier.
The fact that Washcorp is totaled is not only difficult to grasp, but extremely large. Clearly, it cannot be explained in a TV ad, or any other superficial means of communication. To succeed, this strategy requires a very high percentage of Plainlanders to accept factual propositions that they cannot verify personally, value judgments that contradict their traditional assumptions, and philosophical arguments that they have neither the capacity nor the training to follow.
But the same can be said of their present belief system. To believe that Washcorp is not totaled, a Plainlander must accept numerous unverified facts, judgments and arguments. This process is called trust. It is perfectly normal and healthy.
At present, most Plainlanders feel that Washcorp is a productive institution which serves their interests, and whose occasional errors are correctable. They believe this not because they have thought the question through themselves, but because they have (quite sensibly) delegated it to credible information sources, whom they trust.
Their error is that these organs – press, universities, etc – are not in fact independent of Washcorp. Indeed, they are arguably the most influential power structures within it. At least if we define influence as control over policy, and we define “within” according to reality rather than symbolism.
If this analysis is accurate, Washcorp can be defeated by the following steps:
One: construct an information source more accurate than Washcorp’s official organs.
Two: there is no two. If the argument above is correct, the rest will happen on its own.
First, if we are correct that Washcorp is pernicious and irreparable, and our information source is accurate, it must produce the same conclusion.
Granted, the proposition that Washcorp is totaled is not an “objective” result. It is neither a pure matter of fact, like the half-life of carbon-14, nor a product of irrefutable argument, like Darwinian evolution. Like any other meaningful conclusion about human society, it depends on facts, arguments, and subjective judgments. It is not a proof, but a perspective.
However, the same can be said of the proposition that Washcorp is not totaled. Since this proposition is false, it is likely to depend on incorrect facts or invalid arguments, and indeed it does. Refuting these will leave the surprised reader unusually open to new judgments.
There is no reason that a new, more accurate source of facts and arguments cannot also supply this demand. The mainstream organs which Plainlanders trust today produce a vast quantity of perspective, which seems objective only because it is conventional. If our new source can break this trust, it can remove the mainstream’s camouflage and compete on a level field.
Therefore, after step one (actually building the new authority), our only problem is to persuade most Plainlanders to accept it as accurate – or, at least, much more accurate than the authorities they presently trust.
Assuming a generally uncensored Internet, this problem solves itself. While most people are not capable of sustained analysis, they are quite capable of assigning personal credibility. If the new authority is genuinely more accurate than the official organs, it will attract the support of the smartest and most credible people in society. As this 1337 attracts followers, the normal forces of intellectual fashion will do the rest.
We are left with step one: creating an accurate information source.
Why do the press and universities produce inaccurate information? The problem is not that their employees are not extremely intelligent, knowledgeable, and even well-intentioned. The problem is that they are also ambitious. Their first deception is always of themselves.
Within the mainstream organs, employees who propagate “progressive” perspectives, which lead Plainlanders to perceive Washcorp as a benign institution whose errors can be corrected, tend to outcompete employees who propagate “reactionary” perspectives, which represent Washcorp as pernicious and incurable. Washcorp creates this Darwinian pressure by subsidizing the universities, supplying the press with informal confidential information (leaks), and forming its policy around the preferences of both (influence). Subsidies, leaks and influence will naturally favor the friends of Washcorp, creating a selective bias. This bias is subtle, but not new. Over time it has produced some quite remarkable perspectives.
Of course, our new authority must be absolutely independent from this system. This means it must ascribe zero trust – neither positive nor negative – to the products of the mainstream. This contradicts Wikipedia’s policies. Thus the new authority – which I’ve called Revipedia – can be expected to contradict Wikipedia. It also has a much harder problem to solve than Wikipedia, because it must examine every question on its merits without trusting authority.
If this problem is solvable, I suspect it can only be solved by deploying the full intellectual capacity of the Internet, and applying it in a structure which is not consensual but adversarial. Revipedia maximizes accuracy and credibility by presenting the strongest arguments, on every controversial subject, from every point of view. Moreover, it presents them separately but comparably, eschewing Wikipedia’s unreadable and easily-gamed “he said, she said” style.
Strong arguments can only be produced by editing. A strong system of adversarial arguments demands editors who not only disagree with each other, but do so in a structured and predictable way. An unedited argument, or one edited by unsympathetic editors, is not an argument but a strawman. It adds no credit to its competition. And the difference can only be discerned if the sympathies of the editors are known.
Thus, strong adversarial arguments can only be constructed by a system of formal factions. Nothing of the sort exists at present, either within the mainstream organs or outside them. While this does not demonstrate that this design can create a public information authority of unprecedented accuracy and credibility, it certainly does not refute the proposition.
Furthermore, if there is an error in the argument above (which is certainly quite complex, and largely deductive rather than empirical), it may follow that Washcorp is actually benign, or that it is pernicious but a strong information authority is insufficient to defeat it. However, this does not imply that such an authority is undesirable. It’s hard to see how it could be.
Since neither Revipedia nor anything like it exists, I conclude that someone ought to build it. I’m afraid my plate is full. But is yours? Imagine being the Jimbo Wales of the next century. It won’t be me. It could be you.