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 Hayes’ History 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. In this chapter, we’ll look, purely in a theoretical manner of course, at what it 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.
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 us 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 human neurological uniformity (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 were 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 were 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. In this chapter 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, i.e., 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.1 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.
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 the author, 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.2 (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.)3
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 à 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.4 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.5 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 in Chapter 8: 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.