Archive for January, 2009

A gentle introduction to Unqualified Reservations (part 2)

January 15, 2009

We have swallowed the red pill, which now makes its way to the stomach. The coating dissolves. The rotor spins up and the device begins to operate. Inside, the sodium-metal core remains intact.

And we begin the treatment. Again, our goal is to detach you – by “you,” of course, I mean only the endogenous neural tissue – from the annelid parasite which now occupies a significant percentage of your cranium, and of course is fully integrated with your soul.

This worm goes by many a name, but today we’ll just call it democracy. Once we’ve severed its paradendritic hyphae, you can remove your little guest safely in your own bathroom – all you need is a Dremel tool, a Flowbee and a big plastic bag. Pack the cavity with Bondo, wear a wig for a few weeks, and no one will suspect you’ve become a reactionary imperialist.

Of course, you came to us. So the worm must be a little loose already, or otherwise unwell. Which is great – but doesn’t really assist us in the procedure. UR is a scientific operation. Everyone gets the same cuts on the same dots. So for the purposes of our red pill, we’ll assume you remain an orthodox, NPR-loving progressive. Continue reading at your own risk.

We’ll start by detaching you from the party line, your parasite, democracy, on exactly one point. You’ll feel a kind of faint plucking sensation behind your right ear. It might hurt a little. It is not the sodium core. We are certainly not solving the problem here and now. Yet our point is a substantial one, and detaching it should give us plenty of slack to pull on.

What we’re going to do is to replace your perspective of a major historical event, one which you have never considered controversial, but one which is vital to your understanding of the world you live in. And how will we accomplish this? By the most orthodox of scholarly methods. The only tools in our little black bag are (a) primary sources, (b) forgotten works by reputable historians of the present, and (c) modern works by respected academics.

When all I knew of surfing was surf videos, I used to wonder how surfers swim through all those big broken waves out to where it’s glassy. When I learned to surf (I am a terrible surfer), I learned the answer: there’s no trick. At least, not one that works. You just have to paddle out faster than the crazy, roaring mess can push you in. (Okay, if you’re a shortboarder, you can duck-dive. But shortboards are for teenagers.)

Similarly, there is no magic key to history. If you want to make up your own mind about the past, you cannot do so by going there. So you have to find sources you trust. The Sith Library makes this about as easy as it’s going to get, but it will always be work.

Anyway. Our point is the conflict you call the American Revolution. For a quick self-test, ask yourself how close you are to agreeing with the following statement. (You’re not expected to take this on faith – we will demonstrate it quite thoroughly.)

Everything I know about the American Revolution is bullshit.

Orwellian antihistory, at least high-quality antihistory (and remember, kids, democracy is anything but mildly evolved), tends to fit Professor Frankfurt’s handy definition: bullshit is neither truth nor fiction. It is bullshit. If it uses any factual misstatements, it uses them very sparsely. If it has any resemblance to reality, the match is a coincidence.

The typical structure of antihistorical bullshit is an aggregate of small, accurate and unimportant facts, set in a filler of nonsense and/or active misinterpretation. This mix hardens quickly, can support tremendous architectural loads, and looks like marble from a distance.

Especially if you’ve never seen actual marble. When I find out, or at least flatter myself that I have found out, the actual picture behind my 10th-grade matte-painting view of some event, I am always reminded of something that happened to me in 10th grade. I was listening to a shitty ’80s Top 40 station – in the actual ’80s. Presumably in a desperate attempt to familiarize myself with actual American culture. When, as some kind of game or promotion, they played a Stones song – Paint It Black, I think. And that was basically it for Cyndi Lauper. This is the difference between real history and antihistory: the difference between Mick Jagger and Cyndi Lauper.

Of course, unlike Cyndi Lauper, antihistorical bullshit has an adaptive function. It exists to fill the hole in your head where the actual story should be. Duh. If everything you know about the American Revolution is bullshit, you know nothing about the American Revolution. This is the basic technique of misdirection, popular with magicians everywhere since time immemorial. You can’t see the rabbit going into the hat if you’re not looking at the hat.

So: let’s put it as bluntly as possible. At present you believe that, in the American Revolution, good triumphed over evil. This is the aforementioned aggregate. We’re going to just scoop that right out with the #6 brain spoon. As we operate, we’ll replace it with the actual story of the American Rebellion – in which evil triumphed over good.

Yup. We’re really going to do this. You’re on the table. It’s the real thing. In the terms of the time, at present you are a Patriot and (pejoratively) a Whig. After this initial subprocedure you will be a Loyalist and (pejoratively) a Tory. Obviously, a challenging surgical outcome. But hey, it’s the 21st century. If not now, when?

Some would just try to split the difference, and convince you that it wasn’t black and white – that the “King’s friends” had a point, too. Your modern academic historian (as opposed to his more numerous colleague, the modern academic antihistorian) is terribly good at this trick of dousing inconvenient truths in a freezing, antiseptic bucket of professional neutrality.

This is pretty much why you can’t just walk into your friendly local bookstore and buy a red pill. It was black and white. It was just black and white in the other direction.

How on earth can we possibly convince you of this? We’ll read an old book or two, that’s all. No actual incision is needed. The metaphor is just a metaphor. Relax and breathe into the mask.

Let’s call our first witness. His name is Thomas Hutchinson, and he is the outstanding Loyalist figure of the prerevolutionary era. His Strictures upon the Declaration of the Congress at Philadelphia is here. It is not long. Please do him the courtesy of reading it in full, then continue below.

Now: what do you notice about Hutchinson’s Strictures? Well, the first thing you notice is: before today, you had never read it. Or even heard of it. Or probably even its author. What is the ratio of the number of people who have read the Declaration to the number who have read the Strictures? 10^5? 10^6? Something like that. Isn’t that just slightly creepy?

The second thing we notice about the Strictures is its tone – very different from the Declaration. The Declaration shouts at us. The Strictures talk to us. Hutchinson speaks quietly, with just the occasional touch of snark. He adopts the general manner of a sober adult trapped in an elevator with a drunk, knife-wielding teenager.

Of course, as Patriots (we are still Patriots, aren’t we? Sorry – just checking), we would expect some cleverness from the Devil. Everyone knows this is the way you win an argument, right or wrong. Pay no attention to Darth Hutchinson’s little Sith mind tricks. But still – why would Congress make it so easy? Why are we getting stomped like this? Because ouch, man, that was painful.

The third thing we notice is that Hutchinson actually explains the Declaration. As he begins:

The last time I had the honour of being in your Lordship’s company, you observed that you were utterly at a loss as to what facts many parts of the Declaration of Independence published by the Philadelphia Congress referred…

In other words: these Congress people are so whack-a-doodle-doo, half the time your Lordship can’t even tell what they’re talking about. Presumably “your Lordship” is Lord Germain. Dear reader, how does your own knowledge of the Declaration compare to Lord Germain’s? Weren’t you amused, for instance, to learn that

I know of no new offices erected in America in the present reign, except those of the Commissioners of the Customs and their dependents. Five Commissioners were appointed, and four Surveyors General dismissed; perhaps fifteen to twenty clerks and under officers were necessary for this board more than the Surveyors had occasion for before: Land and tide waiters, weighers, &c. were known officers before; the Surveyors used to encrease or lessen the number as the King’s service required, and the Commissioners have done no more. Thirty or forty additional officers in the whole Continent, are the Swarms which eat out the substance of the boasted number of three millions of people.

or, most intriguingly, that

The first in order, He has refused his assent to laws the most wholesome and necessary for the public good; is of so general a nature, that it is not possible to conjecture to what laws or to what Colonies it refers. I remember no laws which any Colony has been restrained from passing, so as to cause any complaint of grievance, except those for issuing a fraudulent paper currency, and making it a legal tender; but this is a restraint which for many years past has been laid on Assemblies by an act of Parliament, since which such laws cannot have been offered to the King for his allowance. I therefore believe this to be a general charge, without any particulars to support it; fit enough to be placed at the head of a list of imaginary grievances.

What is this fraudulent paper currency? Hutchinson is referring to this episode. The experienced UR reader may well ask: what is it with America and paper money? We’ll definitely have to revisit the question.

But suffice it to say that you, personally, do not have the knowledge to produce any kind of coherent response to Hutchinson’s brutal fisking of our sacred founding document. You can’t say: “actually, Governor Hutchinson, I was in Boston in 1768, and I can tell you exactly why the Assembly was moved to Cambridge. What really happened is that…” For all you or I know about Boston in 1768, of course, Hutchinson could just as easily be the one yanking our chains. But why, then, are we so sure he’s wrong?

Of course, you don’t really think of the Declaration as a list of factual particulars. You think of it as a deep moral statement, about humanity, or something. Nonetheless, it does contain a list of particulars. Isn’t it odd that it strikes us as odd to see these particulars closely examined? One simply doesn’t expect to see the Declaration argued with in this way. And, reading the Strictures, one gets the impression that the authors of the Declaration didn’t, either.

Which should not surprise us. What we learn from the Strictures is that, as in the rest of American history, there is absolutely no guarantee that a detailed and rational argument about a substantive factual question will prevail, whether through means military, political, or educational, over a meretricious tissue of lies. So why bother – especially if you’re the one peddling the lies? Perhaps Hutchinson is yanking our chain, and King George really did dispatch hordes of ravenous bureaucrats to America, etc, etc. But one would expect to have seen the point at least disputed.

But, okay. Whatever. We are still Patriots. So let’s advance to the second primary: Peter Oliver’s Origin & Progress of the American Rebellion.

Peter Oliver was Chief Justice of Massachusetts and Hutchinson’s brother-in-law. His brother Andrew was Hutchinson’s lieutenant governor. Like Hutchinson, the Olivers spent most of the ’60s and ’70s trying to survive the Boston mob, by whom Andrew Oliver was more or less hounded to death. Hutchinson and Peter Oliver died in exile.

The Origin & Progress was written in 1781, but not published properly until 1961 (with an excellent introduction by the historian Douglass Adair). The copy on archive.org is a bank error in your favor, as Adair’s edits should still be under copyright. I recommend downloading the PDF. If Hutchinson has already sold you on Toryism, great. Otherwise, please read the whole book, then Adair’s introduction.

If you are feeling especially impatient, and/or confident in your knowledge of 18th-century political theory and the history of early New England, I suppose you can skip Oliver’s “procathartick Porch” and go straight to chapter II (page 57), where the story starts to really motor. But I don’t recommend it. As Oliver writes:

Methinks Sir! I hear you ask me, why all this Introduction? Why so long a Porch before the Building is reached? Let me answer You by saying, that you desired me to give You the History of the american Rebellion, because You thought that I was intimately acquainted with the Rise & Progress of it; having lived there for so many Years, & been concerned in the publick Transactions of Government before the Rebellion burst its Crater. I was very willing to answer your Request. I, on my Part, must ask you to oblige me, by permitting me, in the epistolary Walks, to indulge my Fancy in the Choice of my Path. Besides, you may perhaps, in the Sequel, find some Analogy between the Porch & the Building, & that they are not two detached Structures; altho’ a good Architect might have produced a better Effect, by making either or both of them a little more tasty. However, if you will excuse the Hibernicism, you need not enter the House by its Porch, but open the Door of the main Building which hangs at the End of the Porch, & adjoins to it.

Before I introduce you to the House, let me remind you, that I shall confine myself, chiefly, to the Transactions of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, as it was this Province where I resided, & was most intimate to the Transactions of; & as it was the Volcano from whence issued all the Smoak, Flame & Lava which hath since enveloped the whole British american Continent, for the Length of above 1700 Miles. If I deviate into other Colonies, my Excursions will be few & short. I promise You that I will adhere most sacredly to Truth, & endeavor to steer as clear as possible from Exaggeration; although many Facts may appear to be exaggerated, to a candid Mind, which is always fond of viewing human Nature on the brightest Side of its Orb.

The Origin & Progress is obviously a very different animal from the Strictures.

What’s so neat about Peter Oliver’s little book is that, besides being a primary source of considerable historical value, it is also an artistic work of considerable literary merit. The tone, as we see, is almost postmodern. Oliver has a voice, and even here in the benighted 21st century (where we think “candid” means “honest,” rather than “naive”), we can hear it. This is a man you could have a beer with. Even from the strongest revolutionary characters, TJ and John Adams, it is hard to get such a three-dimensional presence.

The past, as they say, is a foreign country. Imagine you were a hippie backpacker visiting, say, Armenia, having read a few newspaper stories about how the Armenian Democratic Front is struggling nobly against the iron oppression of the Armenian People’s Party – this being roughly comparable to the average American’s knowledge of prerevolutionary Massachusetts politics. But leaving the airport in Yerevan, you meet Vartan (“call me Varty!”), a die-hard APP man, and wind up drinking with him and his boho friends until four in the morning. Of course, you’ll leave Armenia a dedicated supporter of the APP. This is roughly how we intend to convert you into a Loyalist. You can’t actually have a beer with Peter Oliver, but you can read his book.

Speaking of John Adams, there’s actually another point of contact: you can rent the first disc of the HBO miniseries by that name. I gave up after an episode and a half – I have put a little work into my picture of the 1770s, and I don’t want it contaminated with Hollywood’s. But I will say this: HBO’s Samuel Adams, as a sort of 18th-century Al Sharpton, is dead on. As Oliver puts it:

I shall next give you a Sketch of some of Mr. Samuel Adams’ Features; & I do not know how to delineate them stronger, than by the Observation made by a celebrated Painter in America, vizt. “That if he wished to draw the Picture of the Devil, that he would get Sam Adams to sit for him:” & indeed, a very ordinary Physiognomist would, at a transient View of his Countenance, develope the Malignity of his Heart. He was a Person of Understanding, but it was discoverable rather by a Shrewdness than Solidity of Judgment; & he understood human Nature, in low life, so well, that he could turn the Minds of the great Vulgar as well as the small into any Course that he might chuse; perhaps he was a singular Instance in this Kind; & he never failed of employing his Abilities to the vilest Purposes.

His beer sucks, too. And few will forget this portrait of John Hancock, as the dim young Trustafarian, and general Wallet of what Oliver calls “the Faction”:

Here I am almost necessarily led into a Digression upon Mr. Hancock’s Character, who was as closely attached to the hindermost part of Mr. Adams as the Rattles are affixed to the Tail of the Rattle Snake. Mr. Hancock was the Son of a dissenting Clergyman, whose Circumstances in Life were not above Mediocrity, but he had a rich Uncle. He was educated at Harvard College, was introduced into his uncles Warehouse as a Merchant, & upon his Death was the residuary Legatee of 60,000 pounds Sterling. His understanding was of the Dwarf Size; but his Ambition, upon the Accession to so great an Estate, was upon the Gigantick. He was free from Immoralities, & Objects of Charity often felt the Effects of his Riches. His Mind was a meer Tabula Rasa, & had he met with a good Artist he would have enstamped upon it such Character as would have made him a most usefull Member of Society. But Mr. Adams who was restless in endeavors to disturb ye Peace of Society, & who was ever going about seeking whom he might devour, seized upon him as his Prey, & stamped such Lessons upon his Mind, as have not as yet been erased. Sometimes, indeed, by certain Efforts of Nature, when he was insensible of the Causes of his self, he would almost disengage himself from his Assailant; but Adams, like the Cuddlefish, would discharge his muddy Liquid, & darken the Water to such a Hue, that the other was lost to his Way, & by his Tergiversations in the Cloudy Vortex would again be seized, & at last secured.

Put your John Hancock on that! Of course, dissenting doesn’t mean Mr. Hancock’s father was an open-minded dissident, like me. It means he was a Dissenter – ie, a Puritan, and thus a member of what Mr. Otis called his black Regiment. (The Olivers and Hutchinsons were Anglicans.) Don’t miss Peter Oliver’s discussion of the role of the Puritan clergy in the disturbances, which will not be even slightly surprising to the experienced UR reader.

And yes, the Origin & Progress really is pretty much all this good. Read the whole thing. Consider it a small revenge on your 10th-grade history teacher. And chuckle along with Peter Oliver, when he writes:

I have done Sir! for the present, with my Portraits. If you like them, & think them ornamental for your Parlour, pray hang them up in it; for I assure You, that most of them justly demerit a Suspension.

Black humor – cheap black humor – from the 18th century. And there is more to Oliver than his Portraits. If you want action, skip to the Stamp Act (chapter III, p. 76):

In this Year 1765, began the violent Outrages in Boston: and now the Effusions of Rancour from Mr. Otis’s Heart were brought into Action. It hath been said, that he had secured the Smugglers & their Connections, as his Clients. An Opportunity now offered for them to convince Government of their Influence: as Seizure had been made by breaking open a Store, agreeable to act of Parliament; it was contested in the supreme Court, where Mr. Hutchinson praesided. The Seizure was adjudged legal by the whole Court.

This raised Resentment against the Judges. Mr. Hutchinson was the only Judge who resided in Boston, & he only, of the Judges, was the Victim; for in a short Time after, the Mob of Otis & his clients plundered Mr. Hutchinsons House of its full Contents, destroyed his Papers, unroofed his House, & sought his & his Children’s Lives, which were saved by Flight. One of the Riotors declared, the next morning, that the first Places which they looked into were the Beds, in Order to murder the Children. All this was Joy to Mr. Otis, as also to some of the considerable Merchants who were smugglers, & personally active in the diabolical Scene. But a grave old Gentleman thought it more than diabolical; for upon viewing the Ruins, on the next Day, he made this Remark, vizt. “that if the Devil had been here the last Night, he would have gone back to his own Regions, ashamed of being outdone, & never more have set Foot upon the Earth.” If so, what Pity that he did not take an Evening Walk, at that unhappy Crisis; for he hath often since seen himself outdone at his own outdoings.

You see what I mean by “evil.” You probably also remember, dimly, your 10th-grade history teacher plying you with propaganda that glorified this kind of spontaneous popular action. If you want to know how decent people can support evil, find a mirror.

Enough of Peter Oliver. Perhaps he is just not your style, and you remain a Patriot. In that case, there is no further escape. You will have to cope with the long S, and read Charles Stedman’s History of the Origin, Progress, and Termination of the American War (vol. 1, vol.2), our third primary source.

I regret to report that there is no such thing as a neutral primary source. Charles Stedman, though, is Colonel Stedman to you. Call him Chuck, and you’re shit out of luck. Not only was he a Colonel in the British Army, he was born in Philadelphia – and commanded a Loyalist corps against the rebel forces. Moreover, he is a trained lawyer and clearly has read his Thucydides, of whom his tone and content are quite reminiscent.

Colonel Stedman’s history is accurate, clear, and not at all dry. Like Governor Hutchinson, he lets only a few cold digs slip through. The following is a fair sample:

When the assembly of this province [Massachusetts, of course] met in the month of January [1773], the governor [Hutchinson] probably intending to give them an opportunity, if they were so disposed, of doing away the evil impressions which might have been made by the unqualified resolutions of the town meeting at Boston, took occasion in his speech to insist on the supreme legislative authority of the king and parliament.

But if he hoped to benefit government by bringing on this discussion, he was entirely disappointed. The assembly, instead of endeavouring to moderate and qualify the doctrines contained in the resolutions of the town meeting, seized the opportunity of the address which was to be presented, to fix them more firmly and in their utmost extent. They openly denied the authority of parliament, not only to impose taxes, but to legislate for them in any respect whatsoever; adding, “that if there had been in any late instances a submission to acts of parliament, it was more from want of consideration or a reluctance to contend with the parent state, than a conviction of the supreme legislative authority of parliament.”

This address also recapitulated a number of new grievances which had not heretofore been complained of. And such was its improper tendency, even in the opinion of the Assembly, upon cooler reflection, that six months after, in a letter to the earl of Dartmouth, Secretary of State for American affairs, they thought it necessary to apologize for it, imputing the blame of their intemperate proceedings to their governor, who had unnecessarily brought the subject of parliamentary authority under their consideration.

In this letter they say, “that their answers to the governor’s speech were the effect of necessity, and that this necessity occasioned great grief to the two houses;” and then, in a style truly characteristic of puritanical duplicity, they exclaim, “For, my lord, the people of this province are true and faithful subjects of his Majesty, and think themselves happy in their connection with Great Britain.”

Trust me: if you have actually read all three of these selections, you will be under no illusion whatsoever as to what style is, or is not, truly characteristic of puritanical duplicity.

If not, please do so. Feel free to stop reading Colonel Stedman as soon as you are sold, or if you get to the point where the war has actually started and you still are not sold. In that case, we move on to the secondary sources: W.E.H. Lecky’s American Revolution (Britain, 1898), Sydney Fisher’s True History of the American Revolution (1902, US). And if you are still a Patriot after that, we have to get into the tertiary sources. (Anything post 1950 deserves the “tertiary” warning label, I feel.) Read Bernard Bailyn’s Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (1967).

If you actually read all this, yet remain a damn’d Whig – congratulations Sir! You are poffeffed of an unusually thick Skull – not unlike yr. ancestor, the Pithecanthropus. Indeed Samuel Johnson put it best: the Devil was the first Whig. And to him with you Sir! For the Remedy hath failed.

Otherwise, congratulations on completing the first step of the procedure. Don’t worry – the worst is still to come. Also, we need to quickly install your new Tory history.

The outcome of our little reading list is that, if even a tenth of what Hutchinson, Oliver and Stedman say is true, your desire to remain a Whig is now somewhere between your desire to join the Crips and your desire to volunteer for the Waffen SS. Whereas you formerly thought of the values of the American Revolution as liberty, truth and justice, you now see the hallmarks of the American Rebellion as thuggery, treason, and – above all – hypocrisy.

Therefore, since you can no longer be a Whig, you have no option but to become a Tory. The conflict was, after all, a war. No one was neutral. There is no third side.

But what – since we are now Tories – actually happened? What truth are we to install in the freshly-scraped neural cavity?

What happened is that the executive cohesion of Great Britain had weakened considerably since the golden age of Pitt. For most of the 18th century, there was no such thing as a Tory in British politics. The country was a one-party Whig state. As Colonel Stedman puts it: “… that party distinction of Whig and Tory, which had been dormant since the reign of Queen Anne.” It may (or may not) surprise you to know that this was considered a bad thing.

The event that triggered the Rebellion was an attempt by certain elements of the British leadership, a group not at that time distinguished by any great talent, to restore full lawful authority to the American colonies. Especially in New England, smuggling was rife, and it was not at all clear how far the king’s writ ran.

Moreover, Massachusetts in particular was swarming with unreconstructed Puritans, who had never been properly disciplined for the failure of the previous republican revolution. In contrast to the home country, which had enjoyed 28 years of restored Stuart rule, the attempted New England restoration of the Andros period had lasted only three years, at which point it was terminated by the treasonous Whig coup of 1688.

British politics in the 1760s was coming out of its one-party phase and had stretched out a good bit, developing Whig radicals on the left and proto-Tory “King’s friends” on the right. Naturally, the former tended to be low-church and Dissenter/Nonconformist, the latter tended to be high-church and Anglican. George III never pretended to anything like Stuart authority, but he was making the last ever attempt to render the British monarchy a serious arm of politics.

Therefore, everyone had a reason to do what they did. The King and his friends had a reason to try to reassert authority over the colonies. The colonies had a reason to try for independence. Note, however, that the law was entirely on the side of the former. This gave the rebellion the generally mendacious and criminal quality described above, which is why we are Tories. The rebels could rebel or they could think, speak and write honestly, but not both.

Humans being what they are, it is not terribly surprising that quite a few took the former path. Fortunately, this included many individuals of genuine character and substance, such as George Washington and John Adams, who may have been deluded by ideology but were not seduced by cupidity. The rebellion could easily have ended up where France’s did, and its failure to do so is more than anything due to the High Federalists, who once they saw what republicanism meant in practice ended up with very similar attitudes toward mob politics that we see in Hutchinson and Oliver – twenty years before the Thermidorean reaction that created the Constitution. Most of history consists of going around in circles, learning nothing.

As Colonel Stedman says, the rebels could and should have been crushed easily. In a fair fight, their real chances against the British military were slim to none. As the Union later found, suppressing guerrilla warfare, even in the wilds of North America, is not difficult given sufficient energy. Britain failed because it lacked that crucial ingredient in every war: the will to win.

Britain in the Revolution was politically divided. Large numbers of mainstream political figures – most famously, both Pitt and Burke – sympathized with the Americans. Moreover, although the tea outrage finally created a nominal consensus for a military response, and finally made it imprudent for a British politician to openly urge surrender, a new lobby developed which urged conciliation, conciliation, and more conciliation.

What we see, in other words, is the familiar pattern of two conflicting prescriptions for maintaining the integrity of the state. The Whig prescription says: conciliate the truculent, assuage their grievances whether real or feigned, loosen the ropes at every complaint. The Tory prescription says: enforce the law, and do not bend an inch in response to violence or any other extralegal pressure. As Oliver puts it (p. 125):

Timidity, in Suppression of Rebellion, will ever retard the Subdual of it.

With our corrected Tory vision, we see the answer clearly. In every case, concessions made to dispel conspiracy theories, reassure the Americans of Britain’s fundamental benevolence, and in general appease a fit of calculated insanity, have the obvious effect of displaying Timidity and encouraging further demands. First internal taxation is a violation of American rights, then all taxation, then all parliamentary legislation. The only actual principle that can be discerned is one of unremitting chutzpah and hypocrisy.

The relationship between Britain and Massachusetts, in particular, was much like that between a parent and a teenager. Independence or loyalty: it could go either way, at least for the moment. Scenario: your teenager starts cutting class. So you take her car keys away. So she throws your widescreen TV out the window. So you give her car keys back. Is this pattern of behavior more likely to result in independence, or loyalty?

But this is basically the American policy that the Whigs prescribed. And with the repeal of the Stamp Act, thanks to Burke (who at least later learned better) and the Rockingham Whigs, it’s the policy they enacted. And even when the left Whigs were not, precisely, in the driver’s seat, they were in the passenger seat, yelling. While sold as a policy for the reconciliation of Britain and America, Burke’s policy could hardly have been a better design for the encouragement of an American rebellion and the prospects of its success – which was, of course, achieved.

For example, General Howe among other British military figures is known to have had strong Whig sympathies. His role in America was also twofold: he was there to either defeat the rebels, or make peace with them. Obviously, the latter would have been greatly to his political advantage. Whether his failures in the war were the result of this conflict of interest, or of simple incompetence, can never be known. But the former is surely a reasonable suspicion.

Colonel Stedman, in his dedication, sums it up both well and not impolitically:

The pain of recording that spirit of faction, indecision, indolence, luxury, and corruption, which disgraced our public conduct during the course of the American war…

What, from the historiographic perspective, is particularly galling, is that the explanation that was generally accepted, even in Britain, for most of the 19th century is the Whig one. The rebellion succeeded not because it was not dealt with quickly and decisively, but because the Americans were not conciliated enough. (Alternatively, it succeeded because the Americans were militarily invincible – another common Whig trope.)

This is the secret of puritanical duplicity: no shame, none whatsoever. Every quack who hopes to outlast chance must learn the trick. If you bleed the patient and he dies, obviously you didn’t draw enough blood. Never concede error. Counter every criticism with a barrage of even more gloriously inflated claims. You can see why the likes of Hutchinson and Oliver had no chance at all against the black Regiment.

Evil is typically more powerful than good. Bad men delight in weapons that good men spurn. Success in past conflicts, political or military, is not Bayesian evidence of moral superiority. It is just the opposite. Which is why it’s a problem that the winners write the history books.

So: we’ve completed the operation, at least as far as the American Rebellion is concerned. We’ve created a clean separation between the parasite, democracy, and your understanding of the 18th century, and we’ve replaced the infected Whig mass with a small dose of healthy Tory history. Presumably the counter-democratic nature of the latter is obvious, if not definitive.

In retrospect, your former support for the Whig cause was a classic received opinion, installed without any sort of thought on your part. In other words, it is not something you were reasoned into. It is to your credit as a thinker that you’ve let yourself be reasoned out of it. If you think of Patriot v. Loyalist as a lawsuit and yourself as a juror, not only had you never heard a single word from the defense, you hadn’t even really heard a proper prosecution. There was never any need. The annelid just raised your hand to convict. Megaloponera foetens, thy name is you.

Note, from an almost military perspective, the curious weakness of your convictions in this regard. What made the “Revolution” an easy target is that you had no particular emotional attachment to it – at least, not compared to some other wars we could mention. Your attachment to the Patriot cause seemed rock-solid. But it disintegrated on contact with the enemy. It was all hat and no cattle.

But our red pill is most certainly not an information-warfare device – at least, not a democratic one. It is a tool for your personal enlightenment only. As we can see easily from this first target. If UR were, say, a political party, would the first plank in our platform be repudiation of the American Revolution? This should attract about twelve supporters, all of whom are homeless schizophrenics. It will repel many more, of course.

Of course, this only makes it easier for you to swallow the red pill. The parasite has strong defenses against most attacks of this kind – certainly all which are of democratic relevance. This position is intellectually significant, yet undefended because of its negative political value. Turning you into a Loyalist does not solve the whole problem by any means, but it’s a foothold, and we can use it to excavate other annelid coprolites in more delicate areas of your brain.

Reversing this one point is not sufficient to replace your entire picture of American history. In fact, it’s entirely possible that, if you stop reading UR immediately, you’ll eventually relapse and become a Patriot again. (Some may prefer this outcome.)

What we’ve done, however, is to establish a second narrative. You now have two realities in your head. You have the reality in which there was an American Revolution, which was a triumph for liberty, truth and justice. You may no longer believe in this reality, but you have no way to forget it. And you have the reality in which there was an American Rebellion, which was a triumph for thuggery, treason, and hypocrisy.

So, for example, we can now then ask the question: in the second narrative, the one in which the American Rebellion was a disaster, what is happening in 2009? Whatever the answer is, the two seem quite unlikely to have converged.

But surely we’ve done enough for this week. I’m afraid the series will require a third.

A gentle introduction to Unqualified Reservations (part 1)

January 8, 2009

I thought it’d be fun to kick off the year by retro-introducing the blog – for the benefit of innocent new readers, and crazy old ones as well.

Continuing UR readers: obviously, you are not crazy. It is everyone else who is crazy. Thanks for coming back in 2009. If you need a link to introduce your other crazy friends to UR, this may be a good one.

New UR readers: unfortunately, I’m lying. There is no such thing as a gentle introduction to UR. It’s like talking about a “mild DMT trip.” If it was mild, it wasn’t DMT.

UR is a strange blog: its goal is to cure your brain. We’ve all seen The Matrix. We know about red pills. Many claim to sell them. You can go, for example, to any bookstore, and ask the guy behind the counter for some Noam Chomsky. What you’ll get is blue pills soaked in Red #3.

Since we provide the genuine article, UR is pretty much the anti-Chomsky. (As a broad generalization, UR’s stance in any controversy will be the opposite of Chomsky’s.) Take one of our red pills – heck, split one in half – and you’ll be in a completely different world. Like DMT, except that the DMT reality is prettier than your old reality. UR’s is uglier. Also, DMT wears off.

Alas, our genuine red pill is not ready for the mass market. It is the size of a golfball, though nowhere near so smooth, and halfway down it splits in half and exposes a sodium-metal core, which will sear your throat like a live coal. There will be scarring. What can we say? That’s what you get for being an early adopter. At least you didn’t buy a Newton.

When we think about red and blue pills in the real world, obviously, we are thinking about the Orwellian mind-control state. We are not going to cure your whole brain. After the treatment, for instance, you may still be a Celtics fan. Our chemical interest is solely in the political lobe.

Unfortunately, this organ is unusually large and proliferating fast. After the treatment, it will return to its normal marble-like size, and you may hear a hollow sound if you knock your fist hard on the back of your head. That’s because now you know the truth, and you never need to think about any of that crap ever, ever again. Since the shape of your skull is unchanged, the resulting void is percussive.

When we think about the Orwellian mind-control state, we generally think of a few big, obvious examples. The Nazis. The Soviet Union. And so on. These regimes, of course, specialized in implanting bizarre, sometimes murderous, instructions in their subjects’ brains. If you must visualize these implanted Orwellian modules, you can think of them as little worms, like in Wrath of Khan, that crawl into the ear and stay there.

One imagines writing a letter to a dedicated National Socialist, explaining why he should expel his evil neural parasite and instead become a good liberal, signing it “Das Future” and emailing it through a time machine to 1938. Perhaps this could be the original red pill.

Here at UR we have many sinister devices, but a time machine is not one of them. And fortunately, you do not live in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, or 1938. And even more fortunately, your democratic education has vaccinated you to perfection against the first, and to an adequate if unimpressive level against the second. And most fortunately of all, your government is nothing like either Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. All good. But –

But in 1938, three systems of government were contending for global supremacy. One of them is still around: yours. Anglo-American liberal democracy. Had military luck favored either of the others – National Socialism or Marxist-Leninism – we can also be sure that it would have discovered and reveled in its foes’ every misdeed, and that it would have approached its own, if at all, tentatively and ambiguously.

If only one can survive, at least two must be illegitimate, and irredeemably criminal. And the survivor will certainly paint them as such. But suppose all three are irredemably criminal? If the third is an Orwellian mind-control state as well, its subjects are unlikely to regard it as such. It will certainly not prosecute itself.

The third, our third, is very different from the other two. We must remember that American democracy is categorically distinct from National Socialism and the people’s democracies in too many ways to count. Since there are too many ways to count, we will not bother counting them. We remain entitled to notice parallels. (For instance, it is almost more aesthetic criticism than political or economic analysis, but do read Wolfgang Schivelbusch’s Three New Deals.)

But no number of categorical distinctions from the other two can alter our estimate of the third’s criminality. There are as many ways to be a criminal as there are crimes. That we hang the murderer does not mean we must award a prize to the thief.

Ie: the assumption that, since the Third Reich was Orwellian, and Barack Obama is not Adolf Hitler, Washington must not be Orwellian, is complely fallacious. Socrates is a cat; Ribbentrop is not Socrates; therefore, Ribbentrop is not a cat.

(Comparing the totalitarian dictatorships of the mid-20th century to the OECD democracies of the early 21st is like comparing a reptile to a mammal, a propeller plane to a jet plane, or a flashlight to a laser. We may learn something about the latter from the former, but we may not, and we are easily misled. But they are what we think of what we think of Orwell, and the association must be tackled first.)

Anyway, let’s define this vague charge. What do we mean by Orwellian?

I’d say a fair definition of an Orwellian government is one whose principle of public legitimacy (Mosca‘s political formula, if you care) is contradicted by an accurate perception of reality. In other words, the government is existentially dependent on systematic public deception. If it fails in its mission to keep the lie alive, it at least stands some chance of falling.

The basic premise of UR is that all the competing 20th-century systems of government, including the Western democracies which came out on top and which rule us to this day, are best classified as Orwellian. They maintain their legitimacy by shaping public opinion. They shape public opinion by sculpting the information presented to the public. As part of that public, you peruse the world through a lens poured by your government. Ie: you are pwned.

Thus the red pill: any stimulus or stimulant, pharmaceutical or literary, that fundamentally compromises said system of deception. That sounds very medical, but let’s be clear: you are not taking our pill as a public service. At least with our present crude packaging, the remedy is not accessible to any politically significant percentage of citizens. Rather, you are dosing up because you’d rather be high. Despite the agony of ingestion, it’s just too much fun to see your old reality from the outside. This, rather than “society,” is why you will return to UR again and again.

Seen from outside, the Western democracies are particularly elegant examples of Orwellian engineering. They function in the context of a free press and fair, contested elections. They operate no gulags. Not only has UR never been bothered by the authorities, I have not received a single private communication that I would describe as in any sense unfriendly. So how on earth can the system be described as Orwellian?

Easily. Of course, everyone describes it as Orwellian. Professor Chomsky, for one. But UR gets the same result in a very different way.

You now enter a journey from which your soul may not return. Don’t say we didn’t warn ya. The back button is up and to the left. Like yourself the way you are? You might just want to press it.

Okay! It’s actually quite simple to demonstrate how you’ve been pwned. Let’s start the show with one of UR’s earliest Sith mind tricks. (Jedi mind tricks are blue pills. Sith mind tricks are red pills. Suffice it to say that you’ve been exposed to a lot of anti-Sith propaganda.)

We’ll start with a point of agreement. As a good citizen of America, which is the greatest country on earth, one thing you believe in is separation of church and state. I too am an American, and it so happens that I too believe in separation of church and state. Although one might argue that my interpretation of the formula is a little different than yours.

So let’s understand what we mean by the formula, word by word. What do we mean when we say state? We mean, “the government.” I trust that is sufficiently clear.

What do we mean by separation? If A and B are separated, A has nothing to do with B. Eg, whatever church and state are, if separated, they have as much to do with each other as the Albanian Golf Federation and the Alaskan Alliance for Beef, ie, nothing. I think that’s pretty clear. If the Alaska cattlemen can rent that course outside Durazzo, so can anyone else. Presumably, the opposite, bad if separation is good, would be union of church and state.

What do we mean by church?

Bueller? Bueller? Bueller….

Clearly, if we have some general objection to union of church and state, these objections must in some way be derived from some generic definition of the word church. But when we use words like church, religion, etc, while it is very easy to think of examples (the Catholic Church, Islam, etc, etc), it is considerably more difficult to construct a description which includes all the examples, and excludes all the non-examples. Of course one may have a perfectly reasonable prejudice against the Pope, Muslims, etc – but if so, why not just say so?

For example, it is very easy to include God or gods in one’s definition of church. In that case, we throw out Buddhism, which is surely a legitimate religion. I assume your version of separation of church and state includes separation of Buddhism and state. Mine sure does. And what about Scientology? Shouldn’t we have separation of Scientology and state? I’m guessing you’ll sign up for this one as well.

The question seems difficult. So let’s procrastinate. For a straw definition of church, though, let’s say a church is an organization or movement which specializes in telling people what to think. I would not inquire into this definition too closely – lest you ruin the suspense – but surely it fits Scientology, the Southern Baptists, Buddhism, etc. That’s close enough for now.

This definition of state, separation, and church gives us three interpretations of why separation of church and state is such a good idea.

One: our definition of church might include the stipulation that a church is an organization that distributes misinformation – ie, lies, unfalsifiable hypotheses, and other bogus truths. This sounds very sensible, because we don’t want the state to distribute misinformation.

On the other hand, this is not a very useful definition. It is equivalent to a restriction that union of church and state is okay, so long as the state church teaches only the truth. Naturally, according to the church, it teaches only the truth. But it is difficult to imagine a clause in the Constitution which states: “Congress shall establish a Church, which shall Teach only the Truth.” From an engineering perspective, the restriction is more effective if it does not depend on some process for distinguishing true churches from false churches. Ya think?

Two: we might say that whether they teach the truth or not, churches are just a bad idea, period. People should think for themselves. They should not have thoughts broadcast into a little antenna in the back of the skull. Therefore, the state should separate itself from the church, just because a good state should separate itself from all evil things.

But fortunately or unfortunately, there is no kingdom of philosophers. Most people do not think for themselves, should not think for themselves, and cannot be expected to think for themselves. They do exactly what they should be doing, and trust others to work out the large philosophical truths of the world for them. This trust may be well-placed or not, but surely this mechanism of delegation is an essential aspect of human society – at least with the humans we have now.

Three: we might believe that a government should not tell its subjects what to think. Since this is the only option I have left, it is the one I follow. I’d like to think you follow it as well.

If not quite for the same reason. Let’s think about it. There are two kinds of government: those whose formula of legitimacy depends on popular consent, and those whose doesn’t. Following contemporary usage, we can classify these as authoritarian and democratic.

An authoritarian state has no need to tell its subjects what to think, because it has no reason to care what they think. In a truly authoritarian government, the ruling authority relies on force, not popularity. It cares what its subjects do, not what they think. It may encourage a healthy, optimistic attitude and temperate lifestyle proclivities, but only because this is good for business. Therefore, any authoritarian state that needs an official religion must have something wrong with it. (Perhaps, for example, its military authority is not as absolute as it thinks.)

A democratic state which tells its citizens what to think is a political solecism. Think about the motivation for democracy: it consigns the state to the collective responsibility of its citizens, because it feels this is an independent and well-anchored hook on which to hang the common good. Once the republic has an established church, this hook is no longer independent, and the (postulated) value-add of democracy is nullified.

Without separation of church and state, it is easy be for a democracy to indulge itself in arbitrarily irresponsible misgovernment, simply by telling its bishops to inform their congregations that black is white and white is black. Thus misdirected, they are easily persuaded to support counterproductive policies which they wrongly consider productive.

A common syndrome is the case in which a purported solution is in fact the cause of the problem. As a Russian politician once said of his opponents: “These people think they are the doctors of society. In fact, they are the disease.” (It is indeed surprising that Nassim Taleb has just learned the word iatrogenic. BTW, if you know Taleb, please point him at UR. If you know someone who knows Taleb, please…)

Union of church and state can foster stable iatrogenic misgovernment as follows. First, the church fosters and maintains a popular misconception that the problem exists, and the solution solves it. Secondly, the state responds by extruding an arm, agency, or other pseudopod in order to apply the solution. Agency and church are thus cooperating in the creation of unproductive or counterproductive jobs, as “doctors.” Presumably they can find a way to split the take.

The root problem with a state church in a democratic state is that, to believe in democracy, one must believe that the levers of power terminate with the voters. But if your democracy has an effective state church, the actual levers of power pass through the voters, and go back to the church. The church teaches the voters what to think; the voters tell the politicians what to do. Naturally, it is easy for the politicians to short-circuit this process and just listen to the bishops.

Thus the government has a closed power loop. With the church at its apex, of course. Which is exactly what we were hoping to avoid when we decided to make our state democratic, rather than authoritarian – an independent and unaccountable authority, which is in charge of everything else. In this case our authority is, of course, the church itself. Oops! We have engineered ourselves a big bucket of FAIL.

In other words, our so-called democracy is dependent not on the wisdom of the people, but on the internal power politics of the official church. If these politics produce a political platform which translates to responsible and effective actions, the government will be good. If they don’t, it will suck. Either way, we have consigned the state to an unaccountable conclave of bishops. Why this is an improvement on monarchy, or any other form of autocracy, is unclear.

This political architecture, an abortion by any standard, is commonly known as a theocracy. Oddly enough, the classic historical case of a theocracy is… wait, hang on, I’m forgetting… oh, yes! Right here, in North America. Under those strange people we call the “Puritans.”

(A more precise label would be Brownist – I’m with Shakespeare on this one. Note that, cladistically speaking, we are all Brownists now. And Carter Van Carter has told us all about Whitby – let Daniel Wait Howe fill you in on Scrooby.)

For those who prefer their history fresh rather than aged, we can turn to Darren Staloff, whose Making of an American Thinking Class: Intellectuals and Intelligentsia in Puritan Massachusetts is badly-written but quite informative. Professor Staloff writes [italics mine]:

The Puritan ministers […] created a completely new form of political authority – in the Weberian sense of legitimate power – which I have called cultural domination. Cultural domination, as here conceived, requires four formal supports.

First of all, like charismatic authority, it requires recognition in the form of ritual election or some similar mechanism of oath swearing or covenant signing. Fealty is sworn to the “correct” cultural formation, in this case Puritan biblicism, and the officeholder is empowered only as the specially trained bearer and interpreter of that cultural tradition. The “laity” generally conceive of this high cultural training – whether centered around biblicism or some other intellectually legitimating principle like reason or rationality – as being endowed with an automatic efficacy that need simply be applied to any problem to generate a univocal solution. The biblical truth is eternal and immutable, claimed Thomas Hooker, “but the alteration grows, according to God’s most just judgment, and their own deservings.”

Such belief gives rise to the second formal requirement, that officially authorized bearers of the cultural tradition must always agree in their public formulations or at least not disagree. If this condition is violated, the laity may come to see the cultural tradition as an amorphous collection of expressions or principles manipulated by “mandarins” for their own aggrandizement.

The third requirement is that all public expression of the culturally able must be bestowed on these public acts, including forced attendance, titulary homage, and silent obedience. Finally, to ensure the stability of the entire system, unauthorized cultural expressions must be carefully monitored and severely suppressed when they contradict or threaten to “desacralize” the authorized formulas.

The crafty Professor Staloff, like all good historians, is trying to sneak a message about the present into his narrative of the past. Note that quibble: or some other intellectually legitimating principle like reason or rationality. Why would he say this? Professor Staloff, who has clearly been reading too much H.P. Lovecraft, provides a clue in his introduction:

How could an educated elite of ministers (and magistrates, as I learned from Timothy Breen) hold such dominant power in a fledgling colonial settlement? Granted the deference normally accorded a university degree, these educated leaders lacked the large-scale property interests normally associated with a ruling stratum. What were the institutional arrangements and practices that facilitated this remarkable empowerment? Finally, why did this elite choose to use their power to impose an order on Massachusetts derived from academic theology? What did it mean that the Bay Colony was patterned after a high cultural theory?

I sought the answer to these questions in the library of Miskatonic University. Two works in particular – Falconer’s three-volume Cryptomenysis Patefacta, and von Junzt’s strange Unaussprechlichen Kulten – confirmed my most unsettling hunches.

Professional intellectuals and intelligentsia comprised a collective interest. They were the great unexamined class in modern political history, whose will to power occasionally took the form of revolutionary ideological politics. I had a greater appreciation for the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred’s claim that the Puritan divines were the precursors of the Jacobins and the Bolsheviks.

Professor Staloff, we see, speaks elliptically but with great urgency. What, exactly, is his message to the initiated? How can we translate this dark prophecy into the plain, Saxon tongue?

I’m afraid the proposition Professor Staloff is hinting at is that we do have a state church. It just doesn’t call itself that. By this simple twitch of the hips, like a receiver dodging a linebacker, it has faked your intellectual immune system off its feet. Not to worry! Our red pill is here to help.

Like Professor Staloff, I have constructed my definition of church as a trap. If you have been following along without suspicion, you are in the trap. Let us now close the lid.

Notice that our definition of church has not invoked any of the typical attributes of religion. In particular, we have avoided any requirement that (a) the doctrines of the church be either partially or entirely supernatural in nature (think of Buddhism or Scientology – or, for that matter, Nazism or Bolshevism), or (b) the structure of the church be in any way centrally organized (a Quaker theocracy is just as excluded as a Catholic theocracy – and once your church is united with the state, there is no shortage of structure).

We have just said: a church is an organization or movement which tells people how to think. A broad definition, but it turns out to be perfectly adequate to validate our case for separation of church and state. And it contains all our test cases.

There’s just one problem. The definition is slightly too broad. It captures some cases which we obviously don’t want to include. You see, under this definition, Harvard is a church.

And we surely can’t mean that there should be separation of Harvard and state. Yet somehow – this is the result the computer keeps giving us. Perhaps there is some mistake?

We have stumbled, of course, into Professor Staloff’s definition. Unlike the Harvard of 1639, the Harvard of 2009 bases its authority not on the interpretation of scripture, but on some other intellectually legitimating principle like reason or rationality. Everything else is the same.

It could be, of course, that Harvard of 2009’s application of reason or rationality is inherently accurate, ie, endowed with an automatic efficacy that need simply be applied to any problem to generate a univocal solution. Whether or not this is the case, many behave as if it were.

But even if it is, all we are looking at is a condition we rejected earlier as unsatisfactory: a state church which teaches only the truth. Perhaps Harvard of 2009 teaches only the truth. And Harvard of 2010? 2020? We resign the answer to the tempests of academic power politics. If this is transparent and accountable, so is mud.

The basic security hole is this word, education. Education is defined as the inculcation of correct facts and good morals. Thus an institution which is educational and secular, such as Harvard, simply becomes a “Church, which shall Teach only the Truth.” Like the Puritans of old New England, in seeking to disestablish one state church, we have established another.

It is also hard to argue that we enjoy separation of Harvard and state. Harvard is conventionally described as a “private” university. This term is strictly nominal. Vast streams of cash flow from the taxpayer’s pocket into Harvard’s – as they do not flow to, say, the Vatican.

And we can see easily that Harvard is attached to something, because the perspective of Harvard in 2009, while wildly different from the perspective of Harvard in 1959, is not in any way different from the perspective of Stanford in 2009. If a shared attachment to Uncle Sam isn’t what keeps Harvard and Stanford on the same page, what is? It’s not football.

Except for a few unimportant institutions of non-mainstream religious affiliation, we simply do not see multiple, divergent, competing schools of thought within the American university system. The whole vast archipelago, though evenly speckled with a salting of contrarians, displays no factional structure whatsoever. It seems almost perfectly synchronized.

There are two explanations for this synchronization. One, Harvard and Stanford are synchronized because they both arrive at the same truth. I am willing to concede this for, say, chemistry. When it comes to, say, African-American studies, I am not quite so sure. Are you? Surely it is arguable that the latter is a legitimate area of inquiry. But surely it is arguable that it is not. So how is it, exactly, that Harvard, Stanford, and everyone else gets the same answer?

I’m afraid the only logical alternative, however awful and unimaginable, is the conclusion that Harvard and Stanford are synchronized because both are remoras attached, in some unthinkable way, to some great, invisible predator of the deep – perhaps even Cthulhu himself.

Certainly, the synchronization is not coordinated by any human hierarchical authority. (Yes, there are accreditation agencies, but a Harvard or a Stanford could easily fight them.) The system may be Orwellian, but it has no Goebbels. It produces Gleichschaltung without a Gestapo. It has a Party line without a Party. A neat trick. We of the Sith would certainly like to understand it.

And we are again reminded of the half-mad words of the late Professor Staloff:

… officially authorized bearers of the cultural tradition must always agree in their public formulations or at least not disagree. Cthulhu R’lyeh wagh’nagl fhtagn! If this condition is violated, the laity may come to see the cultural tradition as an amorphous collection of expressions or principles manipulated by “mandarins” for their own aggrandizement.

But if Harvard in 2009 fits this description, how exactly is said agreement enforced? If you’ve ever met any of the officially authorized bearers, you know that the last thing they think of themselves as being is “officially authorized bearers.” And it is one thing to say they must always agree – another to make them do so.

No one does. And yet, they agree. Their views change over time – and they all change in the same direction, at the same rate. There is a strange self-organizing quality about this design. Does the American university system’s maintenance of broad unanimity, despite the clear absence of anything like a coordinating executive authority, make it seem less creepy to you? Or more? I’m afraid I’ll have to go with “more” on this one.

Moreover, if we broaden our focus from the university system to the entire system of “education,” from grade schools to journalism, we see this effect again and again. What, exactly, is the “mainstream media?” If we accept the ecclesiastical metaphor, the newspaper is a perfect analogue of the church proper. It is simply the latest transmission technology for your worm’s daily or weekly security update. And here again, a coordinated message – without any central agency.

Dude, if you don’t find this creepy, I gotta ask: why not? But maybe it is all an abstraction to you. Let’s make it slightly more concrete.

In 1963, a long time ago but in the lives of many now living, the citizens of California, by a majority of nearly two-thirds, voted to pass a law called Proposition 14. This amended the state constitution to add the following:

“Neither the State nor any subdivision or agency thereof shall deny, limit or abridge, directly or indirectly, the right of any person, who is willing or desires to sell, lease or rent any part or all of his real property, to decline to sell, lease or rent such property to such person or persons as he, in his absolute discretion, chooses.”

In other words: if you don’t want to live with persons of color, you don’t have to. The amendment, obviously, turned out to be unconstitutional, just like this one; and we have persons of color to this day in California. In fact, we have so many of them that California in 2008 elected Barack Obama, noted person of color, by almost the same margin that its 1963 predecessor passed Prop. 14.

Part of this political change was due to said demographic shift. But not all. So: how, exactly, did California change from a state that would vote for Prop. 14, to one that would elect Obama? Was this change predictable? Was it inevitable in some sense? Again, we are seeing the movement of a bobber on the water. What is the bobber attached to? A bluegill? Or Cthulhu?

If you are still clinging to the Matrix, you might say the change happened because Prop. 14 was wrong, and the election of Obama was right. Suppose we agree with you. But why, exactly, should we have been so confident in expecting a change from wrong to right? If there is some mechanism large and powerful enough to drag the public opinion of California, in 45 years, from Prop. 14 to Obama – maybe not Cthulhu, but definitely not a bluegill – shouldn’t we expect to be just as easily dragged back from right to wrong? Will segregation make a comeback in San Francisco? If not, why not?

Whatever our Cthulhu may be, it is interesting to note that there is an algorithm for predicting the movement of the bobber. On a number of subjects – not just segregation – I note that the public opinion of California in 2008 is quite similar to the public opinion of Stanford in 1963.

This is easy to explain: in post-1945 America, the source of all new ideas is the university. Ideas check out of the university, but they hardly ever check in. Thence, they flow outward to the other arms of the educational system as a whole: the mainstream media and the public schools. Eventually they become our old friend, “public opinion.” This process is slow, happening on a generational scale, and thus the 45-year lag.

Thus whatever coordinates the university system coordinates the state, through the transmission device of “public opinion.” Naturally, since this is 100% effective, the state does not have to wait for the transmission to complete. It can act in advance of a complete response, as in this case the Supreme Court did in 1967, and synchronize directly with the universities.

This relationship, whose widespread practice in the United States dates to 1933, is known as public policy. Essentially, for everything your government does, there is a university department full of professors who can, and do, tell it what to do. Civil servants and Congressional staffers follow the technical lead of the universities. The residual democratic branch of Washington, the White House, can sometimes push back feebly, but only with great difficulty.

(What’s neat is that because of our armies’ great success in the early 1940s, the governments of other countries respond to American public policy as well. The synchronization is international. Some of America’s little friends overseas, such as Britain, have universities in the second rank. But there is only one global postwar academic system, the American one, and all top-tier universities are in the United States. The con by which policies devised by this system are passed off as global, transcending mere nationality, is sometimes called transnationalism. But I digress.)

The triangle of professors, bureaucrats, and public opinion is stable, because the professors teach as well as advise. Of course, there is a time lag. The system experiences some strain. But it will stay together, so long as the polarity does not randomly reverse – ie, because Cthulhu decides to suddenly swim right rather than left.

But no. Cthulhu may swim slowly. But he only swims left. Isn’t that interesting?

In the history of American democracy, if you take the mainstream political position (Overton Window, if you care) at time T1, and place it on the map at a later time T2, T1 is always way to the right, near the fringe or outside it. So, for instance, if you take the average segregationist voter of 1963 and let him vote in the 2008 election, he will be way out on the wacky right wing. Cthulhu has passed him by.

Where is the John Birch Society, now? What about the NAACP? Cthulhu swims left, and left, and left. There are a few brief periods of true reaction in American history – the post-Reconstruction era or Redemption, the Return to Normalcy of Harding, and a couple of others. But they are unusual and feeble compared to the great leftward shift. Nor, most important for our hypothesis, did they come from the universities; in the 20th century, periods of reaction are always periods of anti-university activity. (McCarthyism is especially noticeable as such. And you’ll note that McCarthy didn’t exactly win.)

The principle applies even in wars. In each of the following conflicts in Anglo-American history, you see a victory of left over right: the English Civil War, the so-called “Glorious Revolution,” the American Revolution, the American Civil War, World War I, and World War II. Clearly, if you want to be on the winning team, you want to start on the left side of the field.

And we are starting to piece the puzzle together. The leftward direction is, itself, the principle of organization. In a two-party democratic system, with Whigs and Tories, Democrats and Republicans, etc, the intelligentsia is always Whig. Their party is simply the party of those who want to get ahead. It is the party of celebrities, the ultra-rich, the great and good, the flexible of conscience. Tories are always misfits, losers, or just plain stupid – sometimes all three.

And the left is the party of the educational organs, at whose head is the press and universities. This is our 20th-century version of the established church. Here at UR, we sometimes call it the Cathedral – although it is essential to note that, unlike an ordinary organization, it has no central administrator. No, this will not make it easier to deal with.

This strange chiral asymmetry implies some fundamental difference between right and left. What is that difference? What does it even mean to be left rather than right? How can an entire system of independent thinkers and institutions, without any central coordinating agency, recognize that everyone should go left rather than right?

First, we need to define left and right. In my opinion, obviously a controversial one, the explanation for this mysterious asymmetric dimension is easy: it is political entropy. Right represents peace, order and security; left represents war, anarchy and crime.

Because values are inherently subjective, it is possible to argue that left can be good and right can be bad. For example, you can say that the Civil War was good – the North needed to conquer the South and free the slaves.

On the other hand, it is also quite easy to construct a very clean value system in which order is simply good, and chaos is simply evil. I have chosen this path. It leaves quite a capacious cavity in the back of my skull, and allows me to call myself a reactionary. To you, perhaps, it is the dark side. But this is only because the treatment is not yet complete.

Whatever you make of the left-right axis, you have to admit that there exists some force which has been pulling the Anglo-American political system leftward for at least the last three centuries. Whatever this unfathomable stellar emanation may be, it has gotten us from the Stuarts to Barack Obama. Personally, I would like a refund. But that’s just me.

It is time to understand this force. My theory is that what we’re looking at is the attraction of power itself. The left attracts a natural coalition because it always attracts those whose only interest is in the pure thrill of domination. Most will join them through peer pressure alone, leaving only the misfits.

Let’s look, for a minute, at the minds of the people who hold these positions of power. Your R1 professors, your Times reporters, and so on. These are, of course, very competitive jobs, and only a tiny minority of the people who want them and are capable of doing them will get to have them. They have certainly worked very hard to get where they are. And they perceive that effort as one made in the interest of humanity at large.

I think the salaries at this level are reasonable, but it is not money that makes people want these jobs. It is power, which brings with it status. I define power as personal influence over important events; I don’t know of any other definition.

One of the key reasons that intellectuals are fascinated by disorder, in my opinion, is the fact that disorder is an extreme case of complexity. And as you make the structure of authority in an organization more complex, more informal, or both – as you fragment it, eliminating hierarchical execution structures under which one individual decides and is responsible for the result, and replacing them with highly fragmented, highly consensual, and highly process-oriented structures in which ten, twenty or a hundred people can truthfully claim to have contributed to the outcome, you increase the amount of power, status, patronage, and employment produced.

Of course, you also make the organization less efficient and effective, and you make working in it a lot less fun for everyone – you have gone from startup to Dilbert. This is Brezhnevian sclerosis, the fatal disease of organizations in a highly regulated environment. All work is guided by some systematic process, in which each rule was contributed by someone whose importance was a function of how many rules he added. In the future, we will all work for the government. Individually, this is the last thing your average intellectual wants to do, but it is the direction in which his collective acts are pushing us.

In short: intellectuals cluster to the left, generally adopting as a social norm the principle of pas d’ennemis a gauche, pas d’amis a droit, because like everyone else they are drawn to power. The left is chaos and anarchy, and the more anarchy you have, the more power there is to go around. The more orderly a system is, the fewer people get to issue orders. The same asymmetry is why corporations and the military, whose system of hierarchical executive authority is inherently orderly, cluster to the right.

Once the cluster exists, however, it works by any means necessary. The reverence of anarchy is a mindset in which an essentially Machiavellian, tribal model of power flourishes. To the bishops of the Cathedral, anything that strengthens their influence is a good thing, and vice versa. The analysis is completely reflexive, far below the conscious level. Consider this comparison of the coverage between the regime of Pinochet and that of Castro. Despite atrocities that are comparable at most – not to mention a much better record in providing responsible and effective government – Pinochet receives the full-out two-minute hate, whereas the treatment of Castro tends to have, at most, a gentle and wistful disapproval.

This is because Pinochet’s regime was something completely alien to the American intellectual, whereas – the relationship between Puritan divines and Bolshevism being exactly as the mad Arab, Abdul Alhazred, says – Castro’s regime was something much more understandable. If you sketch the relative weights of the social networks connecting Pinochet to the Cathedral, versus Castro to the Cathedral, you are comparing a thread to a bicep.

We also see the nature of the blue pill here. After completing the UR treatment, it is interesting to go back and read your Chomsky. What you’ll see is that Chomsky is, in every case, demanding that all political power be in the hands of the Cathedral. The American system is very large and complex, and this is certainly not the case. The least exception or (God forbid) reversal, and Chomsky is in on the case, deploying the old principle of “this animal is very dangerous; when attacked, it defends itself.” The progressive is always the underdog in his own mind. Yet, in objective reality, he always seems to win in the end.

In other words, the Chomskian transformation is to interpret any resistance, by a party which is inherently much weaker, as oppression by a magic force of overwhelming strength. For example, we can ask: which set of individuals exerts more influence over American journalists? American professors, or American CEOs? American diplomats, or American generals? In both cases, the answer is clearly the former. Yet any hint of corporate or military influence over the press is, of course, anathema.

If anyone is in an obvious position to manufacture consent, it is (as Walter Lippmann openly proposed) first the journalists themselves, and next the universities which they regard as authoritative. Yet, strangely, the leftist has no interest whatsoever in this security hole. This can only be because it is already plugged with his worm. The complaint of the Chomskian, in other words, always occurs when the other team is impudent enough to try to manufacture a bit of its own consent. Hence: the blue pill.

And there is another card I’ve been holding back on. You see, the problem is not just that our present system of government – which might be described succinctly as an atheistic theocracy – is accidentally similar to Puritan Massachusetts. As anatomists put it, these structures are not just analogous. They are homologous. This architecture of government – theocracy secured through democratic means – is a single continuous thread in American history.

An excellent historical description of this continuity is George McKenna’s Puritan Origins of American Patriotism – it gets a little confused in the 20th century, but this is to be expected. However, as a demonstration, I am particularly partial to one particular primary source – this article from 1942, which I found somehow in Time Magazine’s wonderful free archive.

The nice thing about reading a primary source from 1942 is that you are assured of its “period” credentials, unless of course someone has hacked Time’s archive. The author cannot possibly know anything about 1943. If you find a text from 1942 that describes the H-bomb, you know that the H-bomb was known in 1942. One such text is entirely sufficient.

What’s great about the “American Malvern” article is that, while it describes a political program you will place instantly, it describes it in a very odd way. You are used to thinking of this perspective, which is obviously somewhere toward the left end of your NPR dial, as representative of a political movement. Instead, the anonymous Time reporter describes it as a religious (“super-protestant,” to be exact) program. Isn’t that just bizarre?

We have caught the worm in the act of turning. The political program and perspective that we think of as progressive is, or is at least descended from, the program of a religious sect. Unsurprisingly, this sect, best known as ecumenical mainline Protestantism, is historically the most powerful form of American Christianity – and happens to be the direct, linear descendant of Professor Staloff’s Puritans. (You can also see it in abolitionism, the Social Gospel, the Prohibitionists, and straight on down to global warming. The mindset never changes.)

For a brief snapshot of where it is today, try this article. Note that Congregationalist and Puritan are basically synonyms, and American Unitarianism is a spinoff of Congregationalism. Of course, these belief systems have evolved since the time when these labels meant anything. Since the 1960s they have merged into one warm, mushy, NPR-flavored whole, which we here at UR sometimes refer to as Universalism. Michael Lerner is perhaps the ultimate Universalist.

Thus we see the whole, awful picture merge together. It is Cthulhu. We don’t just live in something vaguely like a Puritan theocracy. We live in an actual, genuine, functioning if hardly healthy, 21st-century Puritan theocracy.

What this means is that you can trust hardly any of your beliefs. You were educated by this system, which purports to be a truth machine but is clearly nothing of the sort. Since the US is not the Soviet Union, hard scientific facts – physics, chemistry, and biology, are unlikely to be wrong. But the Soviet Union actually did pretty well with hard science.

Other than that, you have no rational reason to trust anything coming out of the Cathedral – that is, the universities and press. You have no more reason to trust these institutions than you have to trust, say, the Vatican. In fact, they are motivated to mislead you in ways that the Vatican is not, because the Vatican does not have deep, murky, and self-serving connections in the Washington bureaucracy. They claim to be truth machines. Why wouldn’t they?

The Cathedral, with its informal union of church and state, is positioned perfectly. It has all the advantages of being a formal arm of government, and none of the disadvantages. Because it formulates public policy, it is best considered our ultimate governing organ, but it certainly bears no responsibility for the success or failure of said policy. Moreover, it gets to program the little worm that is inserted in everyone’s head, beginning at the age of five and going all the way through grad school.

Worst of all, this system is not a new one. It dates at least to FDR. Nor was the pre-FDR system of government in the United States particularly savory. Nor was the one before that – etc. If you want to be completely disillusioned with mythic Americana, I recommend Peter Oliver. It is certainly interesting to know that, ultimately, the reason the Star-Spangled Banner waves o’er the home of the free and the land of the brave is that James Otis‘s father was not given a job.

So it is no use deciding that the solution is to be a “conservative.” It is wonderful that you’ve gotten past progressivism, but you still need the red pill. The problem is much, much older and deeper than you think. I once teased the infamous Larry Auster, proprietor of View from the Right – the Web’s most thoughtful hard-line conservative – that his blog should be called VFR1960, because he sides with the right in every conflict after 1960. Before 1960, however, VFR could be accurately renamed View from the Left. Larry, bless his soul, didn’t like that at all. But it still happens to be true.

This is slightly daunting. But only slightly. We have not even gotten to the active ingredient in our red pill yet – certainly not that awful sodium core. We have presented an alternate picture of reality, in which you live not in the free, post-Orwellian world, but in an Orwellian mind-control state which is a nasty, nasty hangover from the old, weird past. To verify this conviction, however, we need to catch said mind-control state in the act of actually controlling our minds.

Therefore, since we cannot trust our existing beliefs, we need to look at the areas in which our Universalist “educations” may have caused us to misperceive reality, reassess our beliefs, and compare the reassessment to the orthodox or received truth. If we see discrepancies, we confirm the Orwellian interpretation. If we see no discrepancies, perhaps the Cathedral is just a truth machine after all.

Next week, we’ll complete the not-so-gentle introduction. The red pill will then be in your possession, and all you need to do is swallow it.

(And yes, I know, I promised to respond to the comments on the Patchwork series. I will spend one more week, only, on this introduction, and then get to it.)