Archive for June, 2008


June 29, 2008

Gasoline, in you we cuffed Prometheus,
Had him juiced, filtered and fermented,
The finest vintage of pourable arson,
Knocking us over with a lead bouquet,

Gasoline! Sturdy molecule, you have
Many uses: poured on pond or stream, death
To insects and their young; in a jar,
Perfect for cleaning old bicycle chains.

Gasoline, every time someone in Africa
Is dipped in you and leaps into flame,
I must be frank: I care for you less.
Thankfully, the feeling is transient.

Gasoline, I see you are in contango.
The future, however, is full of events.
It takes two to dance on the dollar;
All covenants are closed by a bullet.

Gasoline? Are you listening? No,
Burning like acid wire in our arteries.
Burn, gasoline. The day you hiss and go out
Is the month we murder each other for months.

OLXI: the truth about left and right

June 26, 2008

Dear open-minded progressive, perhaps you were horrified by OLX.

I mean, I did propose the liquidation of democracy, the Constitution and the rule of law, and the transfer of absolute power to a mysterious figure known only as the Receiver, who in the process of converting Washington into a heavily-armed, ultra-profitable corporation will abolish the press, smash the universities, sell the public schools, and transfer “decivilized populations” to “secure relocation facilities” where they will be assigned to “mandatory apprenticeships.” If this doesn’t horrify you, I’m not sure what would.

And do I even mean it seriously? Or am I just ripping off Daniel Defoe? Dear open-minded progressive, perhaps you have come to realize that your narrator is not always a reliable one. He has played tricks on you in the past. He will probably do it again. The game is deep, and not for the unwatchful.

The first thing to remember is that by even reading these horrible, horrible things, you have demonstrated exactly how open your mind is. You are in the 99.99th percentile of open-minded progressives. You are certainly one of the most open-minded people in the world. Your only conceivable worry is that your mind is so open that your brain has fallen out. Obviously this is a real danger. But life is dangerous.

The second thing to remember is that no one else endorses this plan. Or even anything close. In the political world of 2008, restorationism is completely off the map. It is off the table. It is outside the room. It is outside the building. It is running stark naked and crazy through the woods. In a word, it is pure moldbuggery.

And because at present we do live in a democracy, this means it is not dangerous. At least not at present. It could become dangerous, of course – perhaps if UR was as popular as Stuff White People Like. Which it ain’t, and which it won’t be. But what better reason to keep an eye on it?

The third thing to remember is that the whole plan of restoration through national bankruptcy is predicated on the assumption that the bankruptcy administrator – the nefarious Receiver – is responsible, effective, and not least sane. Clearly, if he or she turns out to be Hitler or Stalin, we have just recreated Nazism or Stalinism. Even if you agree with me that Washington is the malignant tumor of the ages, morally, intellectually and financially bankrupt, dead in the water and drifting toward Niagara, you can’t cure cancer with cyanide and LSD.

And the fourth thing to remember, dear open-minded progressive, is that if perhaps you can be convinced that some things you used to think were good are actually evil, you can be convinced that some things you used to think were evil are actually good. After all, you do have an open mind. No sensible mind is very open on this side of the skull, though, and for good reason. If there is a crack, it is a narrow one. What hopes to fit it must fit a postcard.

So let’s swing straight at the ball: the problem of political alignment. Should you be leftist, a rightist, or a centrist? Perhaps we can answer the question from first principles.

Suppose a great wind whips us into space, and sets us down on an Earthlike planet, Urplat, which is completely foreign to us. We quickly discover that Urplat has a democratic political system just like ours. Moreover, Urplat’s political thinkers are always squabbling, just like ours. And even better, an Urplatian position in this longstanding conflict can be described usefully by a single linear dimension, just like our “left” and “right.”

However, the political axis of Urplat is transformed in some unknown way from ours. Its poles are not left and right, but M and Q. You have no way of knowing how M and Q might map to Earth terms. MQ could be left-right, or right-left, or some other weird thing.

What you know is that M and Q are contradictory principles. Each is some fundamental understanding of human society which indisputably contradicts the other. Of course, it is possible for any person to maintain some combination of M beliefs and Q beliefs – most simply, by using the M-principle to understand one issue and the Q-principle for another. This creates the weird phenomenon of a continuous dimension between M and Q, when the question obviously has a fundamentally boolean quality.

Furthermore, M and Q can be easily misapplied. And either can be combined with any sort of venal or sadistic nastiness. Thus, evaluating the actions of individuals who claim to follow the M or Q principles is not a straightforward way to evaluate the choice between M and Q.

We know there is a choice, because we know that at most one of M and Q can be good and true. We must therefore conclude that the other is evil and wrong. Of course, both could be evil and wrong. If we find that one is evil and wrong, we should do another checkup to ensure that the other is good and true. But if we find that one is good and true, the matter is settled – the other is the dark side of the force.

Moreover, the choice matters – because on Urplat, humans have special Jedi powers. Only we can wield the weapon of the Urplatin Jedi, the Iron Mouse. And it takes both of us – you, dear open-minded progressive, and me the closed-minded reactionary. If we can agree, we can either end the conflict permanently in favor of M or Q, or any mixture of the two. Any dissent will be promptly silenced by the Mouse.

So what criteria can we use to decide between M and Q? The many followers of each great way, of course, are lobbying us with beluga and Porsches and blondes. Or at least the Urplatin equivalent of these fine goods. Nonetheless, we are stern, and will choose only the truth.

A simple test (a) might be to take a vote. If more Urplatins prefer M, their planet will be governed for the indefinite future on the M-principle. If they favor Q, likewise.

But, frankly, this is shite. If Q is evil and the Urplatins vote for Q, we have just condemned them and their children to a world of infinite suffering. Past Q-ist movements have perhaps been tempered by a modicum of M, mere personal decency, or mitigating venality. But if we enforce Q with the Iron Mouse, there will be no escape. If Q is wrong, wrong shall result. You may not have a problem with this, but I do, and it takes both of us to move the Mouse.

And is there any way in which we can guarantee that the headcount of Urplatin supporters corresponds to the absolute truth or falsity of M or Q? Answer: no. Many, perhaps even most, of the Urplatins are dumb as rocks. Therefore, this test is not useful.

A simple way to fix the test – (b) – is to restrict the vote to Urplatins who are at least as smart as whichever of the two of us is dumber. That way we cannot possibly agree to describe any voter as “dumb as a rock.” The description is inherently insulting to one of us.

So we are only considering the view of smart Urplatins. Even better, if we see a difference between smart Urplatins and dumb Urplatins, we can penalize whichever principle, M or Q, is popular with the dumb ones. If we see that Q is generally believed by the smarter Urplatins and M is more popular with the dumb ones, we pretty much have the answer. Right?

Okay. Let’s assume Q is the smart position and M is the dumb position. We know one fact about Urplat. Does this tell us that Q is good and true, and M is wrong and evil?

At the very least, this proposition depends on the intelligence of Urplatins. If a dumb Urplatin has an IQ of 80, in Earth terms, and a smart one has an IQ of 120, we can pretty easily see that on any question on which they might disagree, the latter is more likely to be right.

Or can we? How do we know this? And is our result the same if the IQs are, say, 120 and 160 respectively? What about 160 and 250? Surely it is neurologically possible for an Urplatian to have an arbitrarily high intelligence, at least as measured by any human scale.

And if the proposition is true for stupid = 160 and smart = 250, it means that an Urplatin with an IQ of 160 can be fooled by whichever of M or Q is evil and wrong. If so, one with an IQ of 120 can surely be fooled. Since one can never be so stupid that one can’t discover the truth by throwing darts, it is therefore possible for the Urplatins of IQ 80 to be right and those of IQ 120 to be wrong, which violates the proposition. So we cannot learn that M or Q is right or wrong, just because the smart Urplatins follow Q and the stupid ones cling to M.

However, this fact does tell us something: Q is more competitive than M.

Think of Q and M as two populations of parasites, competing for a one population of hosts. Ignoring the fact that Urplatins can harbor a mixture of Q and M perspectives on different subjects, or simply not care, simplify the problem by imagining that each Urplatin has a boolean flag: Q or M.

Although neither Q nor M may have any central organizing body responsible for the propagation of Q-ism or M-ness, if there was such an intellectual central planner, it would choose the smart hosts over the less-smart ones. If you’re a sexually transmitted virus, you want to be in a promiscuous gay host, preferably an airline steward. If you’re an intellectually transmitted principle, you want to be in a smart and loquacious host, preferably a university professor.

We expect to see some corollaries of this Q-M asymmetry, and we do. If smart people are more likely to host Q, we’d expect Q to be more fashionable than M. If you want to get ahead in life, acting smart is always a good start – whether you’re smart or not. If smart people tend to host Q, hosting Q is a great way to look smart.

Q becomes a kind of social lubricant. Anywhere, any time, the best way to meet and mate with other young, fashionable people is to broadcast one’s Q-ness as loudly and proudly as possible.

Also, if Q is more competitive than M, we’d expect to see Q progressing against M over time. Again, this is exactly what we see. The M-Q conflict is at least a hundred years old, and when we exhume the frozen thoughts of century-old Q-ists from dusty old libraries, their specific beliefs would put them deep in the M range – often at extreme M levels – if they lived today.

But does any of this answer the question? It does not. At least one of Q or M is darkness. But we cannot tell which.

If Q is the dark side and M is mere sanity, we see immediately what Q is: a transmissible mental disease, which spreads by infecting education workers. If Q is mere sanity and M is the dark side, this same system is in the business of overcoming superstition and leading the people of Urplat, despite the ancient prejudices to which they stubbornly cling, toward the truth. And this is certainly how Q-ists see the matter.

And if they are both evil? But this is difficult to imagine. If both M and Q are dark, there must be some truth which contradicts them both. And it must be less successful than either M or Q.

To a Q-ist, the situation makes perfect sense. The progress toward Q is the slow and painful victory of good over evil. Evil has many advantages, because it can avail itself of evil strategies, whereas the good restrict themselves to achieving good ends by good means. However, the truth has a great advantage: it rings clear, like a bell. No lie can fake it.

There is just one small problem with this explanation. We would expect M to disappear much more quickly than it already has. If M is a lie and it is socially disadvantageous to express it, why, after 200 years, do we still have M? All the cards are stacked against it.

Whereas if Q is a lie and M is the truth, we have all the ingredients for an eternal soap opera. Q has the snaky suppleness of mendacity, its tasty apple flavor, its stylish and sinful delights. M has the rigid backbone of a truth that can be suppressed, but never quite crushed, that reappears spontaneously wherever men and women, often of the socially awkward subspecies, have the misfortune to think for themselves.

We’ve constructed what Professor Burke would call a “narrative.” But, compared to the level of tough thinking that we’d need to actually demonstrate that Q is the dark side and M is the light, our narrative has the strength of tissue paper. It is enough for suspicion, and no more.

Therefore, we need to pull the veil aside and (c) look at what M and Q actually mean.

Note that we are still on Urplat – we are not claiming that M and Q correspond to right and left, or left and right, or anything of the sort. We are just devising abstract meanings for M and Q that could, on this imaginary planet we’ve made up, correspond to the facts we’ve stipulated: M and Q can coexist, M and Q are contradictory, and Q is consistently more fashionable than M.

Our definitions of M and Q revolve around the ancient Urplatin word nomos. If you are for M, you are for the nomos, which makes you a pronomian. If you are for Q, you are against the nomos, which makes you an antinomian. The contradiction is obvious.

Let’s start by explaining the nomos and its supporters, the pronomians.

The nomos is the natural structure of formal promises around which Urplatins organize their lives. To a pronomian, any Urplatin should be free to make any promise. In return, he or she can expect to be held responsible for that promise: there is no freedom to break it. All promises are voluntary until they are made, and involuntary afterward. A pair of reciprocal promises, a common phenomenon on Urplat, is an agreement.

The details of individual promises and agreements are infinite, and constantly changing. But the high-level structure of the nomos is a consequence of reality, and it changes little. To demonstrate this point, let’s derive the nomos from pure reality.

First, Urplatians are not robots. They breed in families, just as we do. An Urplatian family is based on two agreements: one between the parents of the little Urplatian tyke, and one between the child and its parents.

To a pronomian, the relationship between parents and children is simple. The agreement has only one side. Children promise their parents everything, including complete obedience for as long as the parents require. Parents need make no promise to a newborn infant, because an infant is helpless, and cannot compel any concession. If they choose they can emancipate the child when it comes of age, but if they choose they can require it to serve them all their lives. They even hold the power of life and death over it, again until they relinquish this power. (The pronomian supports both prenatal and post-natal abortion.)

Note that this regime – which does not exactly match the family law of, say, California, but is more or less an accurate description of the situation in early Rome – is optimal for the parents. In other words, parents can have no reason to prefer a legal system which gives them less power over their children. If they want to relinquish this power or even assign it to others, nothing is stopping them.

Note also the asymmetry of the agreement between parents and child. By recognizing the helplessness of the infant, we recognize that it has no choice but to accept any definition of the relationship that its parents may propose. The agreement is a promise in one direction because the child has no power to compel any reciprocal promise.

The pronomian sees these kinds of patterns everywhere in the nomos. There is only one nomos, because there is only one reality. The parameters of parenting do not change. The power dynamics are known. The answer is final.

If men and women, not to mention children, were in all cases honest and trustworthy, they could cooperate without a structure of formal promises. Since they are not, they benefit from formal promises and mechanisms for enforcing those promises. But – to the pronomian – this structure is no more than a recognition of reality.

One of the simplest patterns of agreement is property. Property is a system in which one Urplatin claims the sole power to dominate some good – play with a toy, drive a car, fence off a plot of land – and all other Urplatins promise to respect that right. As with the relationship between parents and infants, the origin of property is the balance of power. In a world which contains no property agreements whatsoever, Urplatins can construct a property system based on the reality of current possession.

Another key pattern is the proprietorship. The marriage we saw above is a simple case of partnership. In general, however, a proprietorship exists whenever multiple Urplatins decide to work collaboratively on a shared enterprise.

There are two ingredients to a proprietorship: collective identity and fractional ownership. Collective identity allows the proprietorship to act as a unit, to make and collect promises of its own. Fractional ownership divides the enterprise into precisely-defined shares, which in an anonymous proprietorship can be traded as property. (It’s probably best not to define your marriage as an anonymous proprietorship.)

The natural structure of a proprietorship is that ownership, benefit, and control are synonymous. Ie, if you divide the enterprise into a hundred shares, each share owns a hundredth of the business, receives a hundredth of the profit, and exercises a hundredth of the decision-making power. Of course, it is possible to construct a system of agreements which does not follow this pattern, but in most cases there is no need to. Again, the nomos is not prescriptive; these structures emerge as natural patterns of agreement.

But the most important structure in the nomos is the hierarchy of protection. Protection is what makes all these promises work.

A protector is an enforcer of promises. For some promises in some contexts, protection is not necessary: the cost of breaking any promise may exceed the gain to the promisebreaker. For example, someone who has a reputation for breaking promises may have trouble forming new agreements. This is an unusual condition, however, and not to be relied on. In many contexts – eg, “insider trading” – a broken promise can be worth all an individual’s reputation and more.

By definition, above the top level of the hierarchy of protection there is no protector. That top level, therefore, consists of unprotected authorities – typically proprietorships, but sometimes persons. These unauthorities have no authority which can settle their disputes. They must resort to war, which in Urplatin is called the ultima ratio regum – ie, the last resort of unauthorities.

Unauthorities do, however, make promises to each other. For example, an unauthority must possess an area of land to which it maintains exclusive control – an undomain – because its operations must be somewhere. (If it lacks an undomain, it is subject to the protection of some other unauthority, and thus cannot be an unauthority itself.) The undomain of the unauthority is its property because, as described above, all others have agreed to respect it. But it has no protector other than itself.

The key to success as an unauthority is to ensure that no other unauthority has a positive incentive to violate its promises to you. For example, disrespect of property rights – invasion – is the simplest form of unprotected promise violation. To prevent such assaults, an unauthority must maintain the military and political strength to make the assailant regret the decision to attack. Any less punishment is inadequate; any more is vindictive.

An unauthority makes a crucial mistake when it relinquishes the responsibility of protecting itself to another, stronger unauthority. If unauthorities cooperate against a common threat, they should cooperate for a limited time and a specific reason, and their league should be a league of equals. For an Earth example, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Romania make a good defense league. Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and England do not make a good defense league, because the best case of the relationship is that the first three have become protectorates of the last. Ie, they are already halfway to being its property.

Every Urplatin living within an unauthority’s undomain is its client. To be the client of an undomain is to promise it absolute and unconditional obedience. No unauthority has any use for internal enemies. Moreover, an unauthority cannot be compelled to respect any promise it may make to its clients – there is no force that can compel it. Clients must rely on the desire of the unauthority to maintain its reputation for fair dealing.

Fortunately, an unauthority is a business by definition – its undomain is capital, on which it naturally desires a maximum return. Its return on the property defines the value of the business, and is defined by the value of the subrights to the same property that it concedes to its clients. If its actions decrease this valuation, the unauthority’s own stock goes down. And property in a lawless and mercurial undomain is certainly worth less than property protected by an unauthority which is careful of its reputation.

On the same principle, because an unauthority maintains exclusive control within its undomain, it can and should enforce the promises that its clients make to each other. As we saw in the case of the parents, maximum promise enforcement is optimal customer service. Since the better the customer service, the higher the value of the property, and the higher the value of the property, the higher the value of the undomain, a prudent unauthority will do its best to uphold the nomos.

So, for example, A may promise to B that he will serve B faithfully for the rest of his life, and B may have him whipped if he disobeys. In fact, since parents own their children, A may consign his child C to this same relationship, and so on through the generations. B, of course, presumably makes some promise in return for this remarkable concession.

That’s right: we have just reinvented hereditary slavery. We have also reinvented absolutist or “divine-right” monarchy, the jus gentium, and in fact a whole menagerie of blasts from the past. We start to see why not everyone wants to be a pronomian.

(It is a separate discussion, really, but while we’re talking about hereditary slavery I can’t resist mentioning this book. If your knowledge of the “peculiar institution” is derived entirely from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, perhaps it’s worth reminding you that Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a propaganda novel. It’s not quite like getting your views on Jews from Jud Süss, but… and if you prefer modern sources by respected academics, try this remarkably un-presentist presentation, whose agreement with the Rev. Adams is quite impressive.)

Now, let’s look at the antinomian side of the ledger.

As you may know, antinomian is actually an English word. (And nomos is Greek. Okay, I lied. But I warned you.) It is usually applied in the archaic sense of religious law, but the derivation is sound, and the word is defensible in the present day.

An antinomian is anyone who seeks, consciously or unconsciously, to disrupt or destroy the nomos. He is a breaker of oaths, a burner of deeds, a mocker of laws – at least, from the pronomian perspective. From his own perspective he is a champion of freedom and justice.

I admit it: I am a pronomian. I endorse the nomos without condition. Fortunately, I do not have to endorse hereditary slavery, because any restoration of the nomos begins with the present state of possession, and at present there are no hereditary slaves. However, if you want to sell yourself and your children into slavery, I don’t believe it is my business to object. Try and strike a hard bargain, at least. (A slightly weakened form of pronomianism, perhaps more palatable in this day and age, might include mandatory emancipation at twenty-one.)

So my idea of the antinomian perspective will be a little jaundiced. But I’ll try to be fair.

Perhaps the most refined form of modern antinomianism is libertarianism. Libertarianism is a fine example of the antinomian form, because the elements of the nomos that it attacks are specified with the elegant design sense that one would expect from the founder of modern libertarianism – probably the 20th century’s greatest political theorist, Murray Rothbard.

Rothbardian libertarianism rejects two aspects of the nomos. First, it rejects the entire concept of the unauthority – in Earth-speak, the principle of sovereignty. Rothbardians are called anarcho-capitalists for a reason: they deny the legitimacy of the state, unless operated according to strict Rothbardian principles. Note that they do not require, say, Disney to operate Disneyland according to libertarian principles. This is because, to a Rothbardian, Disney’s title to Disneyland is legitimate, whereas (say) Iceland’s title to Iceland is not.

Rothbard has an intricate system, borrowed originally from Locke, for determining whether or not a title is legitimate. To say that this system is unamenable to objective interpretation is to put it mildly. But the titles of existing unauthorities all appear to be illegitimate. This makes libertarianism a revolutionary ideology. Since its antinomianism is so restricted and its lust for blood is minimal, however, it is not an especially dangerous (or effective) one.

Antinomians who reject sovereignty have two main alternatives. Either they support private, amorphous, and even territorially overlapping “protection agencies” (a design whose military plausibility is, to put it kindly, small), or they believe that government is legitimate if and only if it obeys a set of “natural laws.” Again here we see the proximity to the pronomian. But the Rothbardian concept of natural law misses the Hobbesian fact that in the true nomos, there is no party that can enforce a state’s promises to its clients.

This matters, because legalism without sovereignty has a simple result: the personal rule of judges. The error is to imagine the existence of a superhuman legal authority which can bind a state against itself, enforcing a “government of laws, not men.” As the bizarre encrustations of precedent that history builds up around every written constitution demonstrate, this is simply a political perpetual-motion device. All governments are governments of men. If final decisions are taken by a council of nine, these nine are the nine who rule. Whether you call them a court, a junta or a politburo is irrelevant.

Since I am a bit of a geek, though, the Rothbardian interpretation that interests me most is his approach to contract law. Note how Rothbard rejects the idea of binding promises, and is forced to construct impossibly elaborate structures of property rights. If I promise to paint your house, I have really sold you a title to a paint job, and if I do not then paint your house I am guilty of theft for having stolen said paint job. I think.

The Rothbardian design breaks down completely in a frequently-mentioned exception, the case of insider trading. Here is a randomly-Googled example of the kind of Jesuitic Talmudry to which libertarians resort when confronted with this problem. To a pronomian, the answer is simple: if you are to be given material non-public information, you promise to go to jail if you disclose it. Note that this is exactly how it works now. (Note also that to anyone who has ever had a real job, the idea of legal insider trading is transparently ridiculous.)

The tactical error of the libertarian, Rothbardian or otherwise, is to believe that the state can be made smaller and simpler by making it weaker. Historically, the converse is the case: attempts to weaken an unauthority either destroy it, resulting in chaos and death, or force it to compensate by enlarging, resulting in the familiar “red-giant state.” The pronomian prefers a state that is small, simple, and very strong. It respects the rights of its clients not because it is forced to respect them, but because it has a financial incentive to respect them, and it obeys that financial incentive because it is managed responsibly and effectively.

All things considered, however, libertarianism is a mild, innocuous form of antinomianism. Let’s skip immediately to the writer who may be the most popular philosopher on earth today, Slavoj Žižek. Here we see antinomianism in an almost pure, indiscriminate form, as in this lovely passage:

The Benjaminian “divine violence” should be thus conceived as divine in the precise sense of the old Latin motto vox populi, vox dei: NOT in the perverse sense of “we are doing it as mere instruments of the People’s Will,” but as the heroic assumption of the solitude of sovereign decision. It is a decision (to kill, to risk or lose one’s own life) made in the absolute solitude, with no cover in the big Other. If it is extra-moral, it is not “immoral,” it does not give the agent the license to just kill with some kind of angelic innocence. The motto of divine violence is fiat iustitia, pereat mundus: it is JUSTICE, the point of non-distinction between justice and vengeance, in which “people” (the anonymous part of no-part) imposes its terror and makes other parts pay the price – the Judgment Day for the long history of oppression, exploitation, suffering – […]

The anonymous part of no-part. The big Other. Listen to this scoundrel, this charlatan, this truly evil man. Or buy his book, with its lovely cover. You won’t be the first. If I, dear open-minded progressive, ever become as popular on America’s college campuses as Slavoj Žižek, you may feel free to expend as much concern over my “secure relocation facilities” as Professor Žižek’s rusty old guillotine, which has lost not a drop of its eternal thirst.

Did I mention that I’m not an antinomian? From Rothbard to Robespierre is a long leap, no doubt, but we can observe some commonalities.

Antinomians believe that the present state of affairs is unsatisfactory. So, of course, do I. The nomos is horribly corroded and encrusted with all sorts of gunk. However, the pronomian’s goal is to discern the real structure of order under this heap of garbage, scrape it down to the bare skeleton, replace any missing bones, and let the healthy tissue of reality grow around it.

To the pronomian, this structure is arbitrary. Weirdly-shaped borders? Leave them as they are. High taxes? All that tax revenue is paid to someone, who probably thinks of it as his property. Who am I to say it isn’t? There are some property structures, notably patent rights, which I (like most libertarians) find very unproductive. If so, the government needs to print money and buy them back. Fortunately, it has a large, high-speed intaglio press.

The pronomian seeks to restore the nomos, whose outlines are clear under the mountain of byzantine procedure, wholesale makework and vote-buying, criminal miseducation, and other horrors of the liberal-democratic state. The antinomian sees many of the same horrors. But he does not share the pronomian’s goal: minimizing the reallocation of property and authority. Where the pronomian simply wants to replace the management, reorganize the staff, and discard the inscrutable volumes of precedent that have absconded with the name of law, the antinomian wants to destroy power structures that he conceives as illegitimate.

And, of course, he wants to rebuild them according to his ideals. Unless he is a complete nihilist, which of course some are. But it is the destructive tendency that makes antinomianism so successful. The utopia is never constructed, or if it is it is not a utopia. Success is a precondition to utopia, and success involves achieving the power to destroy.

The most common species of antinomian is, of course, the simple anarchist. The most bloodthirsty and intrusive states of the 20th century were based on a philosophy – Marxism – which saw itself as fundamentally opposed to government. People really did believe that the socialist paradise would be something other than a state.

Near where I live, on one of the most fashionable shopping streets in the world, is an anarchist bookstore. On its side wall is a mural. The mural contains two slogans:

History remembers 2 kinds of people, those who kill and those who fight back.

Anarchism strives toward a social organization which will establish well-being for all.

I am flabbergasted by how revealing these slogans are. History, at least when written by honest historians, remembers one kind of people: those who kill. It also notes that those who kill always conceive of themselves as “fighting back.” As for “a social organization,” it is simply our old friend, the State.

Thus, anarchism defines itself: it is an attempt to capture the state, and its juicy revenues, through extortion, robbery and murder. When it succeeds, it will distribute the loot among its accomplices, and “establish well-being for all.” At least in theory.

As we’ve seen, the one thing an antinomian cannot abide is a formal and immutable distribution of the revenues of state. He must constantly redistribute, he must wash his hands on the stream of cash, giving to Peter and taking from Paul, or his supporters have no reason to support him. In other words, he is basically a criminal.

Why is antinomianism, this criminal ideology, so popular? Fashionable, even? Why is it such a good fit for Q? Because people love power, and any movement with the power to destroy anything, or even just “change” it, has just that: power.

Antinomianism allows young aristocrats to engage in the activity that has been the favorite sport of young aristocrats since Alcibiades was a little boy: scheming for power. According to this article, for example, there are “over 7500 nonprofits” in the Bay Area, “3800 of which deal with sustainability issues.” These appear to employ approximately half of our fair city’s jeunesse doree, occupying the best years of their lives and paying them squat. Meanwhile, container ships full of empty boxes thunder out the Golden Gate, along with approximately two trillion dollars a year of little green pieces of paper. However, if you’re 23 and all you care about is getting laid, interning at a nonprofit is definitely the way to go.

Amidst all this appalling nonsense, productive people keep their heads down and manage to engage in a few remaining productive pursuits. The nomos endures. Nor, not even if the Good One is elected, will the guillotine and the tumbrils reappear any time soon.

But antinomianism leaves its scars nonetheless. Almost literally.

The simplicity and flexibility of the nomos creates, or should create, an endless stream of “diversity” in the best sense of the word. It’s almost impossible to imagine the variety of schools, for example, that would spring up if all parents could educate their children as they saw fit. Structures of voluntary agreement tend to rely heavily on mere personal decision, and the products and services they create tend to embody personal style. For example, one of the many reasons that Belle Epoque buildings tend to be so much more attractive than postwar buildings is, I think, that signoff on the design was much more likely to be in the hands of an individual than a committee.

Antinomianism, with its love for reaching into these structures of private agreement and breaking them to serve some nominally noble purpose, has the general effect of replacing individual decisions with committee decisions, personal responsibility with process, and personal taste with official aesthetics. The final stage is the worst form of bureaucracy – litigation, an invisible tyrant whose arms wrap tighter and tighter around us every year. This is sclerosis, scar tissue, Dilbert, Brezhnev, boredom and incompetence for everyone everywhere.

Most observers interpret bureaucratic sclerosis as a sign of a government which is too powerful. In fact it is a sign of a government which is too weak. If seventeen officials need to provide signoff for you to repaint the fence in your front yard, this is not because George W. Bush, El Maximo Jefe, was so concerned about the toxicity of red paint that he wants to make seventeen-times-sure that no wandering fruit flies are spattered with the nefarious chemical. It is because a lot of people have succeeded in making work for themselves, and that work has been spread wide and well. They are thriving off tiny pinhole leaks through which power leaks out of the State. A strong unauthority would plug the leaks, and retire the officials.

Outside the Communist bloc proper, of course, the ultimate in power leakage and resulting bureaucracy was India’s infamous Permit Raj, which still to some extent exists. Needless to say, if the subcontinent was run on a profit basis, the Permit Raj would not be good business. In fact, quite amusingly and with no apparent sense of irony, our favorite newspaper recently printed an article in which the following lines appear:

Vietnam’s biggest selling point for many companies is its political stability. Like China, it has a nominally Communist one-party system that crushes dissent, keeps the military under tight control and changes government policies and leaders slowly.

“Communism means more stability,” Mr. Shu, the chief financial officer of Texhong, said, voicing a common view among Asian executives who make investment decisions. At least a few American executives agree, although they never say so on the record.

Democracies like those in Thailand and the Philippines have proved more vulnerable to military coups and instability. A military coup in Thailand in September 2006 was briefly followed by an attempt, never completed, to impose nationalistic legislation penalizing foreign companies.

“That sent the wrong signal that we would not welcome foreign investment — this has ruined the confidence of investors locally and internationally,” the finance minister Surapong Suebwonglee said in an interview in Bangkok.

The ironies! Of course, perhaps it is not so ironic after all, as perhaps the main reason that the old China Hands, the men (such as Owen Lattimore) who by “manipulating procedural outcomes” gave China to Mao, thought the Communists were the shizzle is that they were obviously so strong. America could really do great things in Asia with the ruthlessly indoctrinated divisions of the PLA on its side, as opposed to Chiang Kai-Shek, who looked like his main interests were opium and little boys.

After fifty million deaths and the annihilation of traditional Chinese culture, what still remains is that strength. There is not much antinomianism in China, which has reduced its totalitarian pretensions to one simple and easily-obeyed rule: do not challenge the Party for power. The result, though profoundly flawed, is the most successful capitalist country in the world. All things considered, it is certainly one of the best to do business in – as the article describes.

And there is another effect of antinomianism: this.

“That’s how we do it out here, man!” In my primitive search of the Pravda, I find no evidence that this happened. Therefore, I must conclude that it did not, and the video is faked.

Because imagine the breach of the limes between barbarism and civilization that this would represent! If you could show this video to an American of 1908, he would simply conclude that civilization has collapsed. It has not. It lives. 580 is safe, mostly. I think. This sort of thing simply can’t happen.

But it can, and it can go on for quite a while without (probably) affecting my life (too much). Nonetheless, it is not getting better. It is getting worse. And nobody is proposing anything like anything that would fix it – except, of course, for me. And I’m crazy.

So Q, of course, is left, and M is right. That is, M – pronomism – is the essential principle of the political right wing. We very rarely see this principle in anything like its undiluted form. But still: why dilute it? Why look around for partial fixes? Why not cure the problem in one step?

Pure Toryism of this sort has a hidden advantage: it is a Schelling point. True, it is very difficult to persuade people to abandon all of the different strains of antinomianism that have nested in their brain, each of which assures them that a simple restoration of the nomos, with sovereign bankruptcy and a plenary Receiver, is unthinkably “fascist.”

However, the eternal problem in organizing any kind of reactionary movement is that if you can get two “conservatives” together in a room, you can generally persuade them to form three political parties. Dissidents by definition are people who think for themselves. They do not have the advantage of the Q-virus, which pulls them all together around the Good One. And like normal people, they tend to disagree.

This is why the search for the essential principle, the nomos, the philosopher’s stone of the right wing, matters. If you can persuade those who distrust the system as it is to discard everything, liberal or conservative – not just “diversity,” and the Good One, and police who hug criminals, but even the Constitution and the Flag and the World Wars and Democracy and the Pledge and the Bill of Rights and all the rest of that stale mythology – if you can talk your audience down to the bare metal, convince them that their political system is scrap, that it is not even remotely recoverable, and then present them with a single principle of government that is at or near this level of simplicity, you’ll have a group of people who are all on exactly the same page.

This, in a word, is organization. And organization is what gets things done. Continue to part 12.

OLX: a simple sovereign bankruptcy procedure

June 19, 2008

OL9: how to uninstall a cathedral

June 12, 2008

I’m afraid, dear open-minded progressive, that we have wandered into deep and murky waters. You thought you were merely in for a bit of philosophical wrangling. Instead here we are, openly conspiring to restore the Stuarts.

The other day in an old book I found a cute little summary of the problem. The book is Carlton HayesHistory of Modern Europe, first published in 1916 and updated in 1924. Writing about modern Europe without mentioning America is a little like writing about the Lakers without mentioning Kobe Bryant, and in the 1924 addendum Professor Hayes simply gives up the ghost and tells us what’s happened lately in the Western world. Of course I simply adore these kinds of contemporary digests. Here is the state of Protestant Christianity, circa 1924:

Among Protestant Christian sects there were several significant movements toward cooperation and even toward formal union. Many barriers between them were broken down, at least in part, by the Young Men’s Christian Association, which had been founded in the nineteenth century but which expanded very rapidly during and after the Great War. The Salvation Army, dating from about the year 1880, was another factor in the same process: it placed emphasis on spiritual earnestness, on evangelical work among the poor, and on charitable endeavors, rather than on sectarian controversies. There were also various “federations of churches,” and in Canada, after the Great War, several Protestant denominations were actually united. Such interdenominational and unifying movements were made easier by the fact that the original theological differences between the various sects were no longer regarded as very important by a large number of church members.

Some Protestants, reacting against the decline of dogma and the doubting of the miraculous and the supernatural, turned increasingly toward Christian Science or towards spiritualism or theosophy. In some countries, and especially in the United States, the current vogue of Darwinism and other theories of evolution caused a new outburst of opposition from stalwart groups of Protestants to the claims of “science,” and a stubborn reaffirmation of their fundamental faith in the literal inspiration of the Bible. These “Fundamentalists,” as they were called, were fairly numerous in several Protestant denominations, and they contested with their “Progressive” or “Modernist” brethren the control of Protestant churches, particularly the Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Baptist, and Methodist.

Now I ask you, dear open-minded progressive: is there anything familiar about this picture?

The YMCA and the Salvation Army are (sadly) no longer major players. But it seems obvious that Professor Hayes is describing our present “red-state” versus “blue-state” conflict. What’s weird, however, is that he seems to be describing it as a theological dispute. Not exactly the present perception.

Your present-day “Progressive” or “Modernist” may retain some vestigial belief in God. Or not. But she certainly does not think of her faction as a Christian supersect. Meanwhile, her “Fundamentalist” adversaries have largely appropriated the label Christian. Neither side sees the red-blue conflict as that old staple of European history, the Christian sectarian war.

There are a couple of other interesting details in Professor Hayes’ little narrative. One, he finds it noteworthy that the mainstream Protestant sects are for some odd reason converging. And indeed in 1924 it was a historical novelty to see Episcopalians and Presbyterians cooperating amicably on “charitable endeavors,” forgetting all those nasty old “theological differences.” Dogs and cats, living together!

Two, it is clear at least from Professor Hayes’ perspective that the “Progressive” or “Modernist” side of this conflict is the main stream of American Protestantism, and the “Fundamentalist” side is a weird, “stubborn” mutation.

To our modern “Fundamentalists” (the term has become so opprobrious that they will respond better, dear open-minded progressive, if you use the word “traditionalist”), the idea that “liberalism” is actually mainstream Protestant Christianity is about as off-the-wall as it gets. And it must strike most “Progressives” as equally weird. But here it is in black and white, from a legendary Columbia historian. Obviously, someone is off the wall. Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s you. Are you feeling paranoid yet, dear reader?

When dealing with historical movements it’s often useful to ask: is this dead, or alive? If the former, what killed it, when, and how? If you cannot find any answers to these questions, it is a pretty good clue that you’re looking at something which isn’t dead.

And if it’s not dead, it must be alive. And if it’s alive, but you no longer identify it as a distinct movement, the only possible answer is that it has become so pervasive that you do not distinguish between it and reality itself. In other words, you do not feel you have any serious alternative to supporting the movement. And you are probably right.

Note that this is exactly how you, dear open-minded progressive, see the modern children of those stubborn “Fundamentalists.” You read the conflict asymmetrically. You don’t think of yourself as someone who believes in “Progressivism.” You don’t believe in anything. You are not a follower at all. You are a critical and independent thinker. Rather, it is your fundamentalist enemies, the tribe across the river, who are Jesus-besotted zombie bots.

The first step toward a historical perspective on the conflict is to acknowledge that both of these traditions are exactly that: traditions. You did not invent progressivism any more than Billy Joe invented fundamentalism. Thanks to Professor Hayes, we know this absolutely, because we know that both of these things existed 84 years ago, and you are not 84.

And what is the difference between a mere tradition and an honest-to-god religion? Theology. A many-god or a three-god or a one-god tradition is a religion. A no-god tradition is… well, there isn’t really a word for it, is there? This is a good clue that someone has been tampering with the tools you use to think.

Because there must be as many ways to not believe in a god or gods as to believe in them. I am an atheist. You are an atheist. But you are a progressive, and I am not a progressive. If we can have multiple sects of Christianity, why can’t we have multiple sects of atheism?

Let’s rectify this linguistic sabotage by calling a no-god tradition an areligion. A one-god tradition is a unireligion. A two-god one is a direligion. A three-god one is a trireligion. One with more gods than you can shake a stick at is a polyreligion. And so on. We see instantly that while progressivism (2008 style) is an areligion, it does not at all follow that it is the one true areligion. Oops.

Question: in a political conflict between a direligion and a polyreligion, which side should you support? What about an areligion versus a trireligion? Let’s assume that, like me, you believe in no gods at all.

One easy answer is to say the fewer gods, the better. So we would automatically support the direligion over the polyreligion, etc. I think the stupidity of this is obvious.

We could also say that all traditions which promote gods are false, and therefore we should favor the areligion over the trireligion. Unfortunately, even if we assume that the areligion is right on the deity question and not even one of the three gods exists, the two could not engage in a political conflict if they did not disagree on many subjects in the temporal plane. Who is more likely to be right on these mundane matters, which actually do matter? We have no reason at all to think that just because the areligion is right about gods, it is right about anything else. And we have no reason at all to think that just because the trireligion is wrong about gods, it is wrong about anything else. So this is really just as stupid, and I do hope you haven’t been taken in by it. (Lots of smart people believe stupid things.)

The second step is to acknowledge the possibility that, on any issue, both competing traditions could be peddling misperceptions. In fact, we’ve just seen it. Neither side wants you to know that progressivism is the historical mainstream of Protestant Christianity. Only in the pages of smelly old books, and of course here at UR, will you find this little tidbit of history. This is pretty standard for religions, which always have a habit of obscuring their own pasts.

Why do both sides agree on this misperception? The fundamentalist motivation is obvious. As a traditionalist Christian, you believe in God. It is obvious that anyone who doesn’t believe in God cannot possibly be a Christian. The idea that there could be any kind of historical continuity between people believe in God, and people who don’t believe in God, is absurd. It’s like saying that Jesus was “just some dude.”

But as someone who doesn’t believe in God, you have absolutely no reason to accept this argument. Do you care, dear open-minded progressive, what wacky stuff those wacky fundies believe in? Do you care whether they worship God in one person, God in three persons, God in forty-seven persons, or God in the person of a turtle? Um, no.

No: from the progressive side, there is a very different problem. The problem is that if Progressivism is indeed a Christian supersect, it is also a criminal conspiracy.

Assuming you’re an American, dear open-minded progressive, you might have forgotten that it’s quite literally illegal for the Federal Government to “make an establishment of religion.” While its authors and ratifiers never meant the clause to mean what it means today, we do have a living Constitution, the law is what it is now, and over the last half-century our friends in high places have been quite enthusiastic about deploying it against their Fundamentalist foes.

Perhaps some perspective can be obtained by replacing the words “Modernist” and “Fundamentalist” in Professor Hayes’ narrative with “Sunni” and “Shia.” The First Amendment does not say “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of Shiism.” More to the point, it does not say “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, until that religion manages to sneak God under the carpet, at which point go ahead, dudes.” Rather, the obvious spirit of the law is that Congress shall be neutral with respect to the theological disputes of its citizens, such as that described by Professor Hayes. Um, has it been?

If you doubt this, maybe it’s time to put on the Fundamentalens. This is a cute optical accessory that transforms all things Sunni into things Shia, and vice versa. When you’re wearing the Fundamentalens, progressive institutions look fundamentalist and fundamentalist institutions look progressive.

In the Fundamentalens, Harvard and Stanford and Yale are fundamentalist seminaries. It may not be official, but there is no doubt about it at all. They emit Jesus-freak codewords, secret Mormon handshakes, and miscellaneous Bible baloney the way a baby emits fermented milk. Meanwhile, Bob Jones and Oral Roberts and Patrick Henry are diverse, progressive, socially and environmentally conscious centers of learning – their entire freshman class lines up to sing “Imagine” every morning.

Would it creep you out, dear open-minded progressive, to live in this country? It would certainly creep me out, and I’m not even a progressive – though I was raised as one.

An America where every progressive in any position of influence or authority was replaced by an equal and opposite fundamentalist, and vice versa, is one you would have no hesitation in describing as a fundamentalist theocracy. Which implies quite inexorably that the America we do live in, the real one, can be fairly described as a progressive atheocracy – that is, a system of government based on an official areligion, progressivism.

This areligion is maintained and propagated by the decentralized system of quasiofficial “educational” institutions which we, here at UR, have learned to call the Cathedral. Today, we’ll look, purely in a theoretical manner of course, at what might take to get rid of this thing. If you find the exercise unpalatable, dear open-minded progressive, just snap the Fundamentalens back on and imagine you’re trying to free your government from the icy, inexorable grip of Jesus. (Or the Pope. The resemblance between anti-fundamentalism and its older brother, anti-Catholicism, may be too obvious to mention – but I should mention it anyway.)

Obviously I don’t object to the Cathedral on account of its atheism. If a theist can object to theocracy, an atheist can object to atheocracy. I object to the concept of official thought in general, to the details of progressivism in specific, but most of all to the insidious way in which the Cathedral has managed to mutate its way around the “separation of church and state” in which it so hypocritically indoctrinates its acolytes. The Cathedral is the apotheosis of chutzpah. It is always poisoning its parents, then pleading for clemency as an orphan.

I know, I know. We have been through all this stuff before. On the Internet it never hurts to repeat, however, and let’s take a brief look at the Cathedral’s operations in the case of one James Watson.

Here is the transcript of an interview between Dr. Watson and Henry Louis Gates. (If you care to go here you can read Professor Gates’ meandering, incoherent summary, and even watch some video.)

Bear in mind that this material, though only recently released, was produced shortly after the struggle session to which Dr. Watson was subjected early this year. The young firebrands over at Gene Expression (many of whom themselves work inside the Cathedral, as of course all serious scientists must) had predictable responses:

Painful to read.

Is Watson one of these people who has balls only when he’s dealing with people lower down the ladder, and none when he is dealing with people who can do him harm?

Had to stop reading almost immediately. Presumably, his confession ended with his execution by a pack of trained dogs.

What a simpering, mewling weakling he is in this interview. Terrified and cowed.

Okay. Obviously, as a bitter and negative person myself, I sympathize with these reactions. But, I mean, if we compare Dr. Watson to Andrei Sakharov – surely a fair comparison – did Dr. Sakharov go around shouting “Communism is a LIE! BETTER DEAD THAN RED!”? Somehow I doubt it. In fact, neither Watson nor Sakharov were executed by a pack of trained dogs. These guys aren’t completely stupid. They know how far to push it.

And Dr. Watson even manages to get Professor Gates, whose career cannot be understood without reference to the color of his skin, to swallow the following harmless-looking red pill:

JW: It was, we shouldn’t expect that people in different parts of the world have equal intelligence, because we all know that. And people say that these should be the same. I think the answer is, we don’t know.

Q: We don’t know. Not that they are.

JW: No, no. I’m always trying to say is that some people … of left wing persuasion have said that there wasn’t enough time for differences… we don’t know. That’s all.

Q: We don’t know.

“We don’t know.” And we can tell that the pill has gotten deep down inside Professor Gates, it has been swallowed and digested and worked its way through the bloodstream and is starting to produce that awful wiry feeling in the glial cells, by a question he asks earlier:

Q: But imagine if you were an African or an African American intellectual. And it’s ten years from now. And you pick up the New York Times … (Hits Table) and some geneticist says, A, that intelligence is genetic, and B, the difference is measured on standardized tests. Between black people and white people, is traceable to a genetic basis. What would you, as a black intellectual, do, do you think?

Here is the problem: the message our beloved Cathedral has been implanting in all the young smart kids at Harvard and Yale and Stanford, the cream of the crop, the top 1%, not to mention the readers of the New York Times who are the top 10%, is not “we don’t know.”

Oh, no. The message is “we do know. And they are equal. In fact, we are so sure they’re equal that if you even start to hint that you might disagree, we will do everything we can to destroy your life, and we will feel good about it. Because your opinions are evil and you are, too.”

So it’s not even a question of ten years from now. White-coated scientists, exercising their papal infallibility through the ordinary magisterium of Times Square, do not need to declare their final and inexorable proof of A and B, thus proving that the Cathedral has been broadcasting mendacity since 1924 – and enforcing it since 1984. We need await nothing. Any intelligent person can already read the contradiction. Professor Gates has said it out loud.

If you accept Dr. Watson’s fallback position, his intellectual Torres Vedras – as Professor Gates does – the Cathedral is already a goner. Its defeat is not a matter for further research. It is a matter of freshman philosophy. The Cathedral has chosen to fortify, not as a minor outpost but as its central keep, the position of not-A and not-B (actually, since not-A or not-B would suffice, the typical insistence on both is a classic sign of a weak position). Its belief in the statistical uniformity of the human brain across all subpopulations presently living is absolute. It has put all its chips on this one.

And the evidence for its position is really not much stronger than the evidence for the Holy Trinity. In fact, the Holy Trinity has a big advantage: there may be no evidence for it, but at least there is none against it. There is plenty of evidence against human neurological uniformity. The question is simply what standard of proof you apply. By the standards that most of apply to most questions of fact, the answer is already obvious – and has been for at least thirty years. If not a hundred.

Moreover, there is a simple explanation for the reason that so many people believe in HNU. It is a core doctrine of Christianity. Even more precisely, it is a core doctrine of the neo-primitive Christianity that we call Protestantism. And specifically, I believe it to be a mutated and metastasized version of the Quaker doctrine of the Inner Light. Basically, all humans must be neurologically uniform because we all have the same little piece of God inside us. (All the American Protestant sects, or at least all the Northern ones, became heavily Quakerized during the 19th century. But that’s a different discussion.)

Thus what we call hate speech is merely a 20th-century name for the age-old crime of blasphemy. You might have noticed that it is not, and has never been, illegal to be an asshole. No government in history has ever come close to criminalizing rudeness, nastiness, meanness, or even harassment in general – not even in the workplace.

Denying the Inner Light, however, is another matter entirely. It’s all too easy to put in the Fundamentalens, transport ourselves to Margaret Atwood world, and imagine the Commander processing an assembly-line of blasphemers with this handy neo-Quaker catchphrase. “Scorned the Testimony of Equality, violated right ordering, denied the Inner Light. Defendant, I think the case is clear. Five years of orientation.”

So it is almost impossible for me to answer Professor Gates’s question. Asking what a “black intellectual” should do after A and B are demonstrated is like asking what a professor of Marxist-Leninist studies should do after the fall of the Soviet Union. I don’t know, dude. What else are you good at?

Professor Gates’ entire department consists of the construction of increasingly elaborate persecution theories to explain facts which follow trivially from A and B. Agree on A and B, and the world has no need at all for Professor Gates, nor for any of his colleagues. He seems like a pretty sharp guy. Surely he can find something. If not, there’s always pizza delivery.

The trouble is that – as we’ve just seen – A and B need not be shown to demonstrate the presence of official mendacity. It is sufficient to demonstrate that A and B are plausible. More strongly, it is sufficient to demonstrate that they are not implausible. Because we are constantly being “educated” to believe that they are implausible. The proposition is implied a thousand times for every time it is stated, but progressivism without HNU makes about as much sense as Islam without Allah.

So if refuting a proposition on which the Cathedral has staked its credibility is sufficient to defeat it, and that refutation is agreed on by all serious thinkers – why the heck is it still here?

Duh. If institutional mendacity is its stock in trade, why on earth should refutation bother it? You don’t have to look far for other cases in which entire departments of the Cathedral have been devoted to the propagation of nonsense. What do you expect them to do, say “we’re sorry, it’s true, we are all a bunch of shills, we’ll go work as taxi drivers now?”

If the Cathedral can lie now, it can lie then. It doesn’t matter what Dr. Watson and his students produce, now or ten years from now. If it is impossible for the New York Times to produce a story saying that A and B are proven, no such story will appear. Rather, the standard of proof will simply be raised and raised again, as of course it has been already.

In other words: if the Cathedral was a trustworthy mechanism for producing and distributing information, we would expect it to correct any newly discovered error, and propagate the correction. But if it was a trustworthy mechanism, it would not already be in an obvious error state, have maintained that error state for decades, and show no signs at all of nudging Professor Gates out of the building and into his new career as a marketing executive. Therefore, to expect it to correct its own errors is naive – at best.

And therefore, you and I have two choices. We can accept that we live in a state of systematic mendacity, as people always have, note that it may well be getting worse rather than better, and figure out how to live with it. This would be the prudent choice. It demonstrates genuine wisdom, the wisdom of resignation and healthy personal motivation.

On the other hand, if you have enough time to read these essays, you have enough time to think about solutions. After all, you already live under a government which demands that you invest a substantial percentage of your neural tissue in the meaningless gabble of politics. This lobe should probably be devoted to dance, literature, or shopping. But we are, after all, human. In addition to our healthier and more positive cogitations, we sometimes express resentment. And what more pleasant riposte than to reprogram one’s political control module, and turn it against its former botmasters?

So we can separate the problem into two categories. One is a policy question: how can the American political system be modified to free itself from the Cathedral? Two is a military question (considering war and politics as a continuum): since the Cathedral does not wish to relinquish power, how can it best be induced to do so? The two are inseparable, of course, but it is convenient to consider them separately. Today we’ll look at the first.

There are two basic ways of executing this divorce. We’ll call one a soft reset and the other a hard reset. Basically, a hard reset works and a soft reset doesn’t. However, a soft reset is more attractive in many ways, and we need to work through it just to see why it can’t work.

In a soft reset, we leave the current structure of government the same, except that we apply the 20th-century First Amendment to all forms of instruction, theistic or “secular.” In other words, our policy is separation of education and state. In a free country, the government should not be programming its citizens. It should not care at all what people think. It only needs to care what they do. The issue has nothing to do with theism. It is a basic matter of personal freedom.

You cannot have official education without official truth, ie, pravda. Most – in fact, I’d say almost all – of our pravda is indeed true. Call it 99.9%. The remaining 0.1% is creepy enough. The Third Reich used the wonderful word Aufklärung, meaning enlightenment or literally “clearing-up.” Every time I see a piece of public education designed to improve the world by improving my character, I think of Aufklärung. But of course, a good Nazi education imparted many true truths as well.

There are four major forms of education in a modern Western society: churches, schools, universities, and the press. Our open-minded progressives have done a fantastic job of separating church and state. I really don’t think their work can be improved on. A soft reset is simply a matter of applying the precedent to the other three.

First, let’s deal with (primary) schools. This is easy, because they are actually formal arms of the government. To separate school and state, liquidate the public school system, selling all its assets to the highest bidder. For every student in or eligible for public school, for every year of eligibility, compute what the school system was getting and send the check to the parents.

This is budget-neutral for state and family alike, and unlike “vouchers” it does not require Uncle Sam or any of his little brothers to decide what “education” is. If the worst parents in the world spend the money on XBoxes and PCP, it would still be a vast improvement on inner-city schools. The perfect is the enemy of the good.

This leaves us with the Cathedral proper: the press and the universities.

The great thing about our understanding of the “wall of separation” is that it works both ways. The distinction between a state-controlled church and a church-controlled state is nil. In the modern interpretation of the First Amendment, both are equally obnoxious. (Although I suspect most progressives would find the latter especially repugnant.)

The same Amendment prescribes the freedom of the press. But the freedom of the press and the separation of church and state are applied in very different ways. The suggestion of a state-controlled press evokes terrible fear and anger in the progressive mind. The suggestion of a press-controlled state evokes… nothing. Even the concept is unfamiliar. Unless they happen to be Tony Blair, I don’t think most progressives have even considered the idea that the press could control the state. No points for guessing why this might be.

And the same principle applies to our “independent” universities. Except briefly during the McCarthy period (about which more in a moment), no one in government has ever considered trying to tell the professors what to think, just as no one in government has ever considered telling the preachers what to preach. But while professors and preachers are both free to offer policy suggestions, it would be a scandal if the latter’s advice was regularly accepted.

Let’s take a hat tip from the blogosphere’s invaluable inside source in the Cathedral, Dr. “Evil” Timothy Burke, who links with applause to how this works:

In the early 21st century, there is no limit or constraint on the desire of public constituencies to profit from the perspective of a university-based historian.

Even better, the usual lament of the humanities — “There is plenty of money to support work in science and engineering, but very little to support work in the humanities” — proves to be accurate only if you define “work in the humanities” in the narrowest and most conventional way. If, by that phrase, you mean only individualistic research, directed at arcane topics detached from real-world needs and written in inaccessible and insular jargon, there is indeed very limited money.

But for a humanities professor willing to take up applied work, sources of money are unexpectedly abundant.

“Applied work.” I love the phrase. It belongs right up there with “manipulating procedural outcomes.” And what does Professor Limerick mean by “applied work?”

Another nearly completed project, The Nature of Justice: Racial Equity and Environmental Well-Being, spotlights the involvement of ethnic minorities with environmental issues. The center works regularly with federal agencies ranging from the Environmental Protection Agency to the National Park Service.

“The involvement of ethnic minorities with environmental issues!” You can’t make this stuff up. I suppose she doesn’t mean that they leave used diapers on the beach, or engage in the ethnic cleansing of pelicans. (I don’t think I’ve linked to Ms. Latte before. She appears to be a racist Jewish woman in her fifties. Her signature post is definitely this one.)

Why is it that Professor Limerick is not just regularly called upon to share her Aufklärung with the EPA (don’t miss the picture), but apparently quite well compensated for it, whereas Ms. Latte has no such opportunity to contribute her insights on the Mexican-pelican interaction?

Well, a lot of reasons, really. But the main one is that EPA (to sound like an insider, drop the article) recognizes Professor Limerick as an official authority. Uncle Sam may not tell the University of Colorado what to do, but the converse is not the case. And if you are a bureaucrat fighting for some outcome or other, and you can bring Professor Limerick in on your side, you are more likely to win. Apparently she is compensated for the service. This is not surprising.

If we lived in a theocracy as opposed to an atheocracy, she might be Bishop Limerick, and her thoughts would carry just the same weight. They might be different thoughts, of course. They probably would be. (Frankly, I would much rather be governed by the Pope than by these people. At least it would be a change. And I do believe in “change.”)

To separate university and state the way church and state are separated, we’d need to make some fairly drastic changes. Of course, all the rivers of state cash that flow to the universities need to be plugged. No grants to professors, no subsidies for students, no nothing. But this is the easy part.

The hard part is that to divorce itself completely, the state needs to stop recognizing the authority of the universities. For example, it is staffed largely with university graduates – many of whom are students of Professor Burke, Professor Limerick, and the like. Perhaps there is no way to avoid this, but there is a way to make it not matter: add university credentials to the list of official no-nos in HR decisions. Treat it like race, age, and marital status. Don’t even let applicants put it on their resumes. Instead, use the good old system: competitive examination.

Professor Limerick’s little pep-talks aside, in some rare cases a government does need to conduct actual research. In that case, it needs to hire actual researchers. Want to hire a chemist? Give her a chemistry test. Nor need this be limited to new employees. Why not reexamine the present ones, to see if they know anything and have any brains?

Okay, that takes care of the universities. Moving on to the press.

There is a simple way for the state to separate itself from the press: adopt the same public communication policies used in private companies. Perhaps the leader in this area is that progressive favorite, Apple. This Google search tells the story. Apple is unusual in that it actually has many deranged fans who want to extract nonpublic information, but of course the same can be said of governments.

All private companies in the known universe, however, have the same policy: any unauthorized communication with anyone outside the company, “journalist” or otherwise, is a firing offense. Often it will also expose you to litigation. Somehow, even Apple manages to be quite successful in enforcing this policy. In general, it simply doesn’t happen. If you are familiar with the area of technology journalism, you know that far from making for dull news, the rarity of leaks makes for extremely spicy and scurrilous trade rags – such as this one. The day US foreign policy is reported a la Register is the day the Cathedral is no more.

When it comes to significant operational details that might affect a company’s stock price, leaking information – whether authorized or not – is actually a crime. As well it should be. Managements used to be free to leak to the investment community, but this loophole was closed in one of the few positive changes in corporate law in recent years, Reg FD.

The reasoning behind Reg FD is excellent. The problem with selective disclosure of financial information is that it creates a power loop between management and selected investors, allowing big fish to benefit from inside information that is more or less a payoff. It still happens, I’m sure – the edges of “material information” are fuzzy – but much less. Ideally, Reg FD would be extended to prohibit any informal communication with Wall Street. If a company has something to say, its Web site is the place to do it.

In government, selective disclosure creates a power network between the press and its sources. This network does not produce money, but just power. The power is shared between the sources and the journalists. The whole system is about as transparent as mud.

The case that created the modern American system of government by leak was the Pentagon Papers case, in which McNamara’s policy shop at DoD (ironically, the ancestor of Douglas Feith‘s much-maligned operation) wrote a study of Vietnam which revealed that the Viet Cong was not a North Vietnamese puppet, had the support of the Vietnamese people, and could never be defeated militarily, especially not by the corrupt and incompetent ARVN. The Joint Chiefs yawned. Daniel Ellsberg quite illegally leaked his own department’s work to the Times, which used it quite effectively to amaze the public – which had no idea that Washington was a place in which the Defense Department might well employ whole nests of pro-VC intellectuals, and regarded the study as a declaration against interest. In the public’s mind, the Pentagon was one thing. The fact that it was pursuing a war that its own experts had decided was unwinnable was permanently fatal to its credibility.

The Supreme Court ruled that the Pentagon could not restrain publication of the study. They did not rule that the Times could not be prosecuted after the fact. But of course it never was. The coup had been accomplished. A new phase of the Fourth Republic was born. Later, the ARVN defeated the Viet Cong, whose “support” was based on brutal terror, and which was indeed no more than an arm of the NVA. No one cared. Doubtless Ellsberg’s conscience was quite genuine, but facts matter. There’s a fine line between speaking truth to power and speaking power to truth.

These hidden power networks (I am particularly enchanted by the word “whistleblower,” which often simply means “informer”) are one of the main tools that civil servants use to govern Washington from below. As a journalist, you maintain a complicated and delicate relationship with your sources, who are your bread and butter. Most of the power is probably on the side of the sources, but it goes in the other direction as well. In any case, no “investigative” journalist has to “investigate” anything – anyone in the government is perfectly happy to feed him not just information, but often what are essentially prewritten stories, under the table.

Eliminating selective disclosure terminates this whole nefarious network. When the US Government has something to say, it says it. And it says it to all Americans at the same time. There is no privileged network of court historians (a journalist is a historian of now) who get secret, special access. This is not a complicated proposition. (The system of officially favored journalists, like so many corruptions of American government, dates largely to FDR. Frankly, these swine have afflicted us too long.)

So that is the soft reset: the separation of education and state. It doesn’t sound too hard, does it? Actually, I think it’s impossible. Now that we’ve explained it, we can look at what’s wrong with it.

Consider another attempt to deal with the Cathedral – McCarthyism. One could call it a crude reset. The idea was that, while all of these institutions were good and healthy and true, they had been infiltrated by Communists and their dupes. Purging these individuals and organizations – listed in publications such as Red Channels – would renew America’s precious bodily fluids.

Can purging work? One answer is provided by La Wik’s page on McCarthyism, which could be rewritten as follows:

During this time many thousands of Americans were accused of being racists or racist sympathizers and became the subject of aggressive investigations and questioning before government or private-industry panels, committees and agencies. Suspicions were often given credence despite inconclusive or questionable evidence, and the level of threat posed by a person’s real or supposed racist associations or beliefs was often greatly exaggerated. Many people suffered loss of employment, destruction of their careers, and even imprisonment.

So, in place of Red Channels, we have the SPLC, and so on. The “Racist Scare” cannot be called a failure. It is socially unacceptable to express racist ideas in any context I can think of. There are certainly no racist movies, TV shows, etc. The McCarthyists no doubt would have been quite pleased if they could have made socialism as politically incorrect as racism is today. They never had a millionth of the power they would have needed to do so.

The obvious inspiration for McCarthyism was the way in which the New Deal had succeeded in marginalizing and destroying its critics. If you’re the Cathedral, this works. If you’re an alcoholic senator scripted by a gay child prodigy, it doesn’t.

McCarthyism failed for many reasons, but the most succinct is what Machiavelli said: if you strike at a king, you need to kill him. The Cathedral is an institution rather than a person, and certainly no one needs killing. But if you just scratch it, you’re just pissing it off. If McCarthy had said: look, we fought the war in the Pacific to save China from the Japanese, and then the State Department handed it to the Russians, this is a failed organization, let’s just dissolve it and build a new foreign-policy bureaucracy – he might have succeeded. He was a very popular man for a while. He might well have been able to build enough public support to liquidate State. Or not. But if he’d succeeded, he would at least have one accomplishment to his name.

The soft reset I’ve described is, with all due respect to Roy Cohn, a much more sophisticated and comprehensive way to attack the Cathedral. It might work. But it probably won’t.

First, the power structures that bind the Cathedral to the rest of the Apparat are not formal. They are mere social networks. If Professor Burke is right that he has real influence in the region he and his colleagues have devastated – southern Africa – it is probably because he has trained quite a few students who work at State or in NGOs in the area. (If he is wrong, all it means is that it’s someone else who has the influence.) Short of firing all these people, there is nothing you can do about this structure. You can’t prevent people from emailing each other.

Second, even if we could break down these social networks, we haven’t touched the real problem. The real problem is that, as a political form, democracy is more or less a synonym for theocracy. (Or, in this case, atheocracy.) Under the theory of popular sovereignty, those who control public opinion control the government.

There is no nation of autodidact philosophers. Call them priests, preachers, professors, bishops, teachers, commissars or journalists – the botmasters will rule. The only way to escape the domination of canting, moralizing apparatchiks is to abandon the principle of vox populi, vox dei, and return to a system in which government is immune to the mental fluctuations of the masses. A secure, responsible and effective government may listen to its residents, but it has no reason to either obey or indoctrinate them. In turn, their minds are not jammed by the gaseous emanations of those who would seize power by mastering the mob.

So if you manage the Herculean task of separating Cathedral and state, but leave both intact, you have no reason to think that the same networks will not just form over again. In fact, you have every reason to believe that they will.

Third, and worst, the level of political power you would need to execute a soft reset is precisely the same level of power you would need to execute a hard reset. That is: full power, absolute sovereignty, total dictatorship, whatever you want to call it. Except inasmuch as it might be easier to construct a coalition to mandate a soft reset, softness has no advantage. The people who presently enjoy power will resist both with the same energy – all the energy they have. If you have the power to overcome them, why settle for half measures?

In a hard reset, we converge legality and reality not by adjusting reality to conform to the First Amendment, but by adjusting the law to recognize the reality of government power.

First, a hard reset only makes sense with the definition we gave last week: unconditional replacement of all government employees. This will break up your social networks. A hard reset should also be part of a transition to some post-democratic form of government, or the same problems will reoccur. But this is a long-term issue.

Most important, however, in a hard reset we actually expand the definition of government. As we’ve seen, the nominally-independent educational organs, the press and the universities, are the heart of power in America today. They make decisions and manufacture the consent to ratify them. Fine. They want to be part of the government? Make them part of the government.

In a hard reset, all organizations dedicated to forming public opinion, making or implementing public policy, or working in the public interest, are nationalized. This includes not only the press and the universities, but also the foundations, NGOs, and other nonprofits. It is a bit rich, after all, for any of these outfits to appeal to the sanctity of property rights. They believe in the sanctity of property rights about as much as they believe in the goddess Kali.

Once they are nationalized, treat them as the public schools were treated in the soft reset. Retire their employees and liquidate their assets. Universities in particular have lovely campuses, many of which are centrally located and should be quite attractive to developers.

The trademarks, however, should be retained and sunk. The former employees of the New York Times can organize and start a newspaper. The former employees of Harvard can organize and start a college. But the former can’t call it the New York Times nor the latter Harvard, any more than you or I could create a publication or a college with those names.

The goal of nationalization in a hard reset is not to create official information organs under central control. It is not even to prevent political opponents of a new regime from networking. It is simply to destroy the existing power structure, and in particular to liquidate the reputation capital that these institutions hold at present.

Harvard and the Times are authorities. Silly as it sounds, their prestige is simply associated with their names. If some former employees of the Times put up a website and call it, say, the New York Journal, no one knows anything about this Journal. Is it telling the truth? Or is it a fountain of lies? It has to be evaluated on its actual track record.

If the old regime still exists, it could be restored at any moment. However you manage to construct the level of power you would need in order to reset Washington, or any other modern government, broad public opinion will be a significant component of your power base. In a reset, you want to construct this coalition once. You don’t want to have to maintain it. Wresting public opinion away from the Cathedral is hard enough. It should not be an ongoing process, especially since the whole point is to ditch this black art of managing the mass mind.

In the Cathedral system, real power is held by the educational organs, the press and the universities, which are nominally outside the government proper. The minimum intervention required to disrupt this system is to withdraw official recognition from the press and the universities. However, any regime that has the power to do this also has the power to liquidate them, along with all other extra-governmental institutions. It is much safer to go this extra mile, rather than leaving the former Cathedral and its various satellites intact and angry.

Most of the historical precedents for this type of operation are pre-20th century. However, before the 20th century, systematic liquidation of information organs was quite common. Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries is an excellent example. Slightly farther afield, we have the suppression of the Jesuits. And in the 20th century, though less comparable, we have denazification.

Of course, these steps are all unbelievably extreme by modern American standards. All this means is that they will not happen unless those standards change. And this will not happen until Americans, “Progressive” and “Fundamentalist” alike, are convinced that their government is indisputably malignant and incapable of self-correction, and the only way to improve it is to replace it completely.

And how could this be accomplished? Obviously, it can’t be. Continue to part X.

OL8: a reset is not a revolution

June 5, 2008