Dear open-minded progressive, I hope you’ve enjoyed this weird excursion.
We all like to think we have open minds, but only a few of us are tough enough to snort any strange powder that’s shoved under our noses. You have joined that elite crew. Thirteen chapters ago you may have been a mere space cadet. Now you are at least a space lieutenant, perhaps even a captain or a major. And what fresh galaxies remain to explore!
But first: the solution.
Well, first the problem. This is a blog, after all. We can’t really expect everyone to have read all the back issues. Repetition is a necessity, and a virtue as well. A true space lieutenant, surprised by the Slime Beast of Vega, has his acid blaster on full-auto and is pumping a massive drug bolus into its sticky green hide before he even knows what’s happening. His reaction is not thought, but drill—the apotheosis of practice.
Our problem is democracy. Democracy is a dangerous, malignant form of government which tends to degenerate, sometimes slowly and sometimes with shocking, gut-wrenching speed, into tyranny and chaos. You’ve been taught to worship democracy. This is because you are ruled by democracy. If you were ruled by the Slime Beast of Vega, you would worship the Slime Beast of Vega. (A more earthly comparison is Communism or “people’s democracy,” whose claim to be a more advanced form of its Western cousin was perfectly accurate—if we mean “advanced” in the sense of, say, “advanced leukemia.”)
There are two problems with democracy: the first-order and the second-order.
The first-order problem: since a governed territory is capital, i.e., a valuable asset, it generates revenue. Participation in government is also the definition of power, which all men and quite a few women crave. At its best, democracy is an permanent, gunless civil war for this gigantic pot of money and power. (At its worst, the guns come out.) Any democratic faction has an incentive to mismanage the whole to enlarge its share.
Without quite understanding this problem, Noah Webster, in his 1794 pamphlet on the French Revolution, described its symptoms perfectly. Webster was writing during the quasi-monarchist Federalist restoration, when Americans had convinced themselves that it was possible to create a republic without political parties. The Federalists held “faction” to be the root of all democratic evils—much as their progressive successors are constantly yearning for a “post-partisan” democracy. Both are right. But complaining that democracy is too political is like complaining that the Slime Beast of Vega is too slimy.
As the tendency of such associations is probably not fully understood by most of the persons composing them in this country, and many of them are doubtless well-meaning citizens; it may be useful to trace the progress of party spirit to faction first, and then of course to tyranny.[…] My second remark is, that contention between parties is usually violent in proportion to the trifling nature of the point in question; or to the uncertainty of its tendency to promote public happiness. When an object of great magnitude is in question, and its utility obvious, a great majority is usually found in its favor, and vice versa; and a large majority usually quiets all opposition. But when a point is of less magnitude or less visible utility, the parties may be and often are nearly equal. Then it becomes a trial of strength—each party acquires confidence from the very circumstance of equality—both become assured they are right—confidence inspires boldness and expectation of success—pride comes in aid of argument—the passions are inflamed—the merits of the cause become a subordinate consideration—victory is the object and not public good; at length the question is decided by a small majority—success inspires one party with pride, and they assume the airs of conquerors; disappointment sours the minds of the other—and thus the contest ends in creating violent passions, which are always ready to enlist into every other cause. Such is the progress of party spirit; and a single question will often give rise to a party, that will continue for generations; and the same men or their adherents will continue to divide on other questions, that have not the remotest connection with the first point of contention.
This observation gives rise to my third remark; that nothing is more dangerous to the cause of truth and liberty than a party spirit. When men are once united, in whatever form, or upon whatever occasion, the union creates a partiality or friendship for each member of the party or society. A coalition for any purpose creates an attachment, and inspires a confidence in the individuals of the party, which does not die with the cause which united them; but continues, and extends to every other object of social intercourse.
Thus we see men first united in some system of religious faith, generally agree in their political opinions. Natives of the same country, even in a foreign country, unite and form a separate private society. The Masons feel attached to each other, though in distant parts of the world.
The same may be said of Episcopalians, Quakers, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Federalists, and Antifederalists, mechanic societies, chambers of commerce, Jacobin and Democratic societies. It is altogether immaterial what circumstance first unites a number of men into a society; whether they first rally round the church, a square and compass, a cross, or a cap; the general effect is always the same; while the union continues, the members of the association feel a particular confidence in each other, which leads them to believe each other’s opinions, to catch each other’s passions, and to act in concert on every question in which they are interested.
Hence arises what is called bigotry or illiberality. Persons who are united on any occasion, are more apt to believe the prevailing opinions of their society, than the prevailing opinions of another society. They examine their own creeds more fully, (and perhaps with a mind predisposed to believe them), than they do the creeds of other societies. Hence the full persuasion in every society that theirs is right; and if I am right, others of course are wrong. Perhaps therefore I am warranted in saying, there is a species of bigotry in every society on earth—and indeed in every man’s own particular faith. While each man and each society is freely indulged in his own opinion, and that opinion is mere speculation, there is peace, harmony, and good understanding. But the moment a man or a society attempts to oppose the prevailing opinions of another man or society, even his arguments rouse passion; it being difficult for two men of opposite creeds to dispute for any time, without becoming angry. And when one party attempts in practice to interfere with the opinions of another party, violence most generally succeeds.
Note that Webster (a) assumes that the problem of factions is solvable; (b) assumes that voters start with a generally accurate understanding of the problem of government, which will generate the right answer on all important questions; (c) assumes that voters will not form coalitions for the mere sordid purpose of looting the state, i.e., “achieving social justice”; and (d), of course, demonstrates the correct or dictionary definition of the word bigotry.
All these assumptions, which in 1794 were at least plausible, are now anything but. (And our modern bigots are as diverse as can be.) Yet the juggernaut of democracy rolls on. New excuses are needed, new excuses are found.
This leads us to the second-order problem. While democracy may start with a population of voters who understand the art of government, as America indeed did (the extent to which 18th-century Americans understood the basic principles of practical government, while hardly perfect, was mindboggling by today’s standards), it seldom stays that way. Its fans believe that participation in the democratic process actually improves the mental qualities of the citizen. I suppose this is true—for certain values of the words “improves.”
The real problem with democracies is that, in the long run, a democratic government elects its own people. I refer here to Brecht’s verse:
After the uprising of the 17th JuneThe Secretary of the Writers UnionHad leaflets distributed in the StalinalleeStating that the peopleHad forfeited the confidence of the governmentAnd could win it back onlyBy redoubled efforts. Would it not be easierIn that case for the governmentTo dissolve the peopleAnd elect another?
One way to elect a new people is to import them, of course. For example, to put it bluntly, the Democratic Party has captured California, once a Republican stronghold, by importing arbitrary numbers of Mexicans. Indeed the Third World is stocked with literally billions of potential Democrats, just waiting to come to America so that Washington can buy their votes. Inner Party functionaries cackle gleefully over this achievement:
For all this  primary season’s obsession with the single (and declining) demographic of white working-class men in Rust Belt states, America is changing rapidly across all racial, generational and ethnic lines. The Census Bureau announced last week that half the country’s population growth since 2000 is due to Hispanics, another group [in addition to blacks] understandably alienated from the G.O.P.
Anyone who does the math knows that America is on track to become a white-minority nation in three to four decades. Yet if there’s any coherent message to be gleaned from the hypocrisy whipped up by Hurricane Jeremiah, it’s that this nation’s perennially promised candid conversation on race has yet to begin.
(BTW, isn’t that photo of Frank Rich amazing? Doesn’t it just radiate pure power and contempt? Henry VIII would probably have asked the painter to make him look less like Xerxes, King of Kings.)
But this act of brutal Machiavellian thug politics, larded as usual with the most gushing of sentimental platitudes, is picayune next to the ordinary practice of democratic governments: to elect a new people by re-educating the children of the old. In the long run, power in a democracy belongs to its information organs: the press, the schools, and most of all the universities, who mint the thoughts the others disburse. For simplicity, we have dubbed this complex the Cathedral.
The Cathedral is a feedback loop. It has no center, no master planners. Everyone, even the Sulzbergers, is replaceable. In a democracy, mass opinion creates power. Power diverts funds to the manufacturers of opinion, who manufacture more, etc. Not a terribly complicated cycle.
This feedback loop generates a playing field on which the most competitive ideas are not those which best correspond to reality, but those which produce the strongest feedback. The Cathedral is constantly electing a new people who (a) support the Cathedral more and more, and (b) support a political system which makes the Cathedral stronger and stronger.
For example, libertarian policies are not competitive in the Cathedral, because libertarianism minimizes employment for public-policy experts. Thus we would expect libertarians to come in two flavors: the intellectually marginalized, and the intellectually compromised.
Many of the LvMI types feel quite free to be skeptical of democracy. But they are skipping quite a few steps between problem and solution. They are still thinking in the democratic tense. Their plan for achieving libertarianism, if it can be described as a plan, is to convince as many people as possible that libertarian policies are good ones. These will then elect libertarian politicians, etc., etc.
When you say, I am a libertarian, what you mean is: I, as a customer of government, prefer to live in a state which does not apply non-libertarian policies. The best results in this line will be achieved by capturing a state yourself, and becoming its Supreme Ruler. Then no bureaucrats will bother you! Given that most of us are not capable of this feat, and given that the absence of government is a military impossibility, the libertarian should search for a structure of government in which the state has no incentive to apply non-libertarian policies. Obviously, democracy is not such a structure.
Thus a libertarian democracy is simply an engineering contradiction, like a flying whale or a water-powered car. Water is a lot cheaper than gas, and I think a flying whale would make a wonderful pet—I could tether it to my deck, perhaps. Does it matter? Defeating democracy is difficult; making democracy libertarian is impossible. The difference is subtle, but…
Worse, the most competitive ideas in the democratic feedback loop tend to be policies which are in fact counterproductive—that is, they actually cause the problem they pretend to be curing. They are quack medicines. They keep the patient coming back.
For example, Britain today is suffering from an “epidemic” of “knife crime.” To wit: every day in Great Britain, 60 people are stabbed or mugged with a knife. (Admire, for a moment, the passive voice. Presumably the knives are floating disembodied in the air, directing themselves with Jedi powers.) The solution:
On Tuesday, Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, will publish her Youth Crime Action Plan. It includes a proposal to make young offenders visit casualty wards to examine knife wounds in an attempt to shock them into mending their ways.
I swear I am not making this up. Meanwhile, experts agree, prison terms should be abolished for minor crimes, such as burglary:
The Independent Sentencing Advisory Panel also said that there should be a presumption that thieves, burglars and anyone convicted of dishonesty should not receive a jail term.
I’m sure that’ll help. Scientists around the world conclude:
It takes a multi-level approach to prevention. If you want to approach violence protection with juveniles, you need to engage in prevention early on—with social skills and anger coping lessons in schools from a young age.
The real experts, of course, are the yoofs themselves:
However, the government should be praised for not taking an automatically authoritarian approach. Their policy of getting young people to talk to stabbing victims rests on the belief that kids respond to education and are capable of empathy, something that the Conservative policy of locking anyone up caught carrying a knife doesn’t seem to appreciate.
To say the least. It wouldn’t be the first time the narrow-minded have defied scientific research:
But researchers at Manchester University’s school of law found evidence which directly contradicts core assumptions of government policy.
Having spoken to and won the trust of more than 100 gang members, associates and informers, they concluded that in general gangs are not tightly organised; they do not specialise in dealing drugs; and their violence is not provoked primarily by turf wars. They also found no basis for the popular belief that most street gangs are black.
Robert Ralphs, the project’s lead fieldworker, said: “Police and other statutory agencies respond to gangs as clearly identifiable groups of criminally-involved young people, where membership is undisputed.”
“In reality, gangs are loose, messy, changing friendship networks—less organised and less criminally active than widely believed—with unclear, shifting and unstable leadership.”
By failing to understand this basic structure, the researchers say, police mistakenly target and sometimes harass individuals who, though gang members, are not breaking any law; the police also repeatedly follow, stop and search the gang members’ family, friends and classmates. This alienated both the gang members and their associates who might otherwise have helped police.[…] Judith Aldridge, who led the research, said: “They are mainly victims. So, there is a desperate need to appropriately assess the needs of these young people and their families—and not blame them.”
Etc. I’m sure none of this is new to you. Britain makes such a wonderful example, however, because its descent into Quaker-thug hell is so fresh, and proceeded from such a height. Witness, for example, this lovely story from the Times archive, which is barely 50 years old—“in the lives of those now living,” unless of course they have since been stabbed:
JUDGE ON RACE GANG WARFARE
Two men were each sentenced at Central Criminal Court yesterday to seven years’ imprisonment for their part in an attack on John Frederick Carter, fruit trader of Sydney Square, Glengall Road, Peckham, who received injuries to his face and head which required 60 stitches.
They were Raymond David Rosa, aged 31, bookmaker’s clerk, of Northborough Road, Norbury, S.W., and Richard Frett, aged 34, dealer, of Wickstead House, Falmouth Road, S.E. The jury had found them both guilty of wounding Carter with intent to cause him grievous bodily harm.
Passing sentence, Mr. Justice Donovan said: “I have not the least doubt that there are other and very wicked persons behind you, but the tools of those persons must realize that if discovery follows punishment will be condign.”
“MORE LIKE CHICAGO”
Summing up yesterday, his Lordship said that the facts of this case sounded more like Chicago and the worst days of prohibition than London in 1956.
Putting two and two together, the jury might think this was another case of race gang warfare. If that were so, then it raised the question of whether the reluctance of Mr. and Mrs. Carter to swear that the two men they had previously picked out were concerned in the attack was due to fear. It was that possibility which put this case into quite a different category. It put it into a category where gross violence had been perpetrated upon a man but after identifying his assailants he and his wife had expressed doubts in the witness-box. The jury were not concerned with the merits or de-merits of Carter. The issue was much wider than Carter’s skin: it was simply one of the maintenance of law and order without which none could go about with safety.
Etc., etc. Notice that both of these miscreants are in possession of at least nominal occupations. Mr. Justice Donovan, honey, with all due respect, you don’t know nothin’ ’bout no “race gang warfare.”
And finally, completing our tour of the British criminal justice system, we learn that:
Two South Africans who overstayed their British visas were jailed for life on Friday for the murders of two men strangled during a series of violent muggings.
Gabriel Bhengu, 27, and Jabu Mbowane, 26, will be deported after serving life sentences.
No, that’s not a misprint:
A life sentence normally lasts around 15 years.
Orwell could not be more satisfied. “A life sentence normally lasts around 15 years.” With not a hint of irony in the building.
Something is normal here, and it is either 1956 or 2008. It can’t be both. If Mr. Justice Donovan, or the Times reporter who considered a mere 60 stitches somehow newsworthy, were to reappear in modern London, their perspective on the art of government in a democratic society unchanged, they would be far to the right not only of Professor Aldridge, but also of the Tories, the BNP, and perhaps even Spearhead. They would not be normal people. But in 1956, their reactions were completely unremarkable.
What’s happened is that Britain, which before WWII was still in many respects an aristocracy, became Americanized and democratized after the war. As a democracy, it elected its own people, who now tolerate what their grandparents would have found unimaginable. Of course, many British voters, probably even most, still do believe that burglars should go to prison, etc., etc., but these views are on the way out, and the politics of love is on the way in. Politicians, who are uniformly devoid of character or personality, have the good sense to side with the future electorate rather than with the past electorate.
And why are the studies of Professor Aldridge and her ilk so successful, despite their obvious effects? One: they result in a tremendous level of crime, which generates a tremendous level of funding for “criminologists.” Two: they are counterintuitive, i.e., obviously wrong. No one would pay a “social scientist” to admit the obvious. Three: as per Noah Webster, they appeal to the ruling class simply because they are so abhorrent to the ruled class.
And four: they are not disprovable, because if pure, undiluted Quaker love ever becomes the only way for British civilization to deal with its ferals, they won’t leave much of Professor Aldridge. She might, like Judith Todd, regard her suffering as a Christlike badge of distinction. She would certainly, like Ms. Todd, express no guilt over her actions. But it won’t happen, because Britain will retain the unprincipled exceptions and the few rough men it needs to keep it from the abyss for the indefinite future. And for that same future, Professor Aldridge and her like will be able to explain the debacle in terms of the “cycle of violence.” As Chesterton put it:
We have actually contrived to invent a new kind of hypocrite. The old hypocrite, Tartuffe or Pecksniff, was a man whose aims were really worldly and practical, while he pretended that they were religious. The new hypocrite is one whose aims are really religious, while he pretends that they are worldly and practical.
From the perspective of the customer of government, however, it is irrelevant why these events happen. What matters is that they do happen, and that they do not have to happen. If statistics did not confirm that stabbings in London were not, in the lives of those now living, a routine event, that Times article should be sufficient. (In fact, I’ll take one good primary source over all the statistics in the world.)
And this, in my reactionary judgment, makes NuLabour responsible for these events. As surely as if Gordon Brown and Professor Aldridge themselves had gone on a stabbing spree.
Consider the following fact: in April 2007, an American Special Forces captain, Robert Williams, forced his way into the home of a young Iraqi journalist, whom he raped, tortured, and attempted to murder. Williams ordered the woman to stab out her own eyes. When she tried and failed, he sliced up her face with a butcher knife. After asking her if she “liked Americans,” he forced her to swallow handfuls of pills, which destroyed her liver, and when leaving the building after an 18-hour ordeal he tied her to a sofa and set a fire under it. She escaped only by using the fire to burn away the ropes around her hands.
And why haven’t you heard of this event? Obviously you don’t read the papers. Williams, it turns out, was linked to a fundamentalist Christian cell inside the US military, one of whose leaders, General William Boykin, was a mentor to none other than John McCain…
Okay. At this point, I am obviously just making stuff up. If this event had happened, you wouldn’t need to read the papers. Or watch television. The only way you would not know of the event is if you were a hermit in the deep bush in Alaska, and it was the middle of winter. It would be the defining event of the American occupation of Iraq, and as soon as the snow thawed and the caribou came back, a dog-team would arrive at your cabin and bark out the news.
Unless the Pentagon covered it up. And given that this search produces almost 2 million hits, doesn’t that seem a likely possibility?
It did happen, however. Not in Baghdad, but in Manhattan. The real Robert Williams is not a white supremacist, but a black one. The anonymous victim is a journalism student at Columbia. And how many stories in the local newspaper of record, many of whose employees must be Facebook friends of the victim, did these events generate? I found six. All of them buried deep in the “New York Region” section, whose crime reporters I’m sure are on the fast track to superstar status at the NYT. Not.
Note that this is exactly how the Pentagon, in our imaginary Baghdad rape, would have wanted the situation handled. A coverup is always a possibility, but risky. It can leak. Whereas if the journalists themselves agree that the event is not important, that it is fundamentally random, that it certainly does not deserve the crime-of-the-century treatment that the Times of London, in 1956, would have given the real Robert Williams.
It is very unfortunate, of course, that a Special Forces officer abused a young Iraqi woman. But it is the exception, not the rule. It has nothing to do with the Special Forces as a whole, or with General Boykin, or certainly with John McCain. A few stories in the back of the paper, and the whole sad event is documented for the record. And our troops continue their honorable work in Iraq, saving babies from gangrene and bringing happiness to orphaned goats.
Would I accept this whitewash? Probably not. But I would be more likely to accept it than the New York Times. Clearly, the real Robert Williams and his ilk have no enemies at the Times. But they have an enemy in Larry Auster, who wrote:
So here’s a question that ought to be asked of Obama at a presidential debate:
Sen. Obama, you said in your speech on race last March 18 that as long as whites have not ended racial inequality in America, whites have to expect the sort of hatred and rage that comes from Jeremiah Wright, who identifies the source of evil in the world as “white man’s greed.”
In this country today, black on white violence is a fact of life, and in addition to the steady stream of black on white rapes and murders there have been racially motivated black on white crimes of shocking brutality and horror, including not only rape and sodomy, but torture, disfigurement, burning. Cases in point are the Wichita Massacre in December 2000 in which five young white people were captured and tortured, and four of them murdered, the torture-murder of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom in Knoxville in January 2007, and the torture and disfigurement of a young women in New York City in April 2007.
Senator, is it your position that until whites have ended racial inequality in America, whites have to expect to be targeted by white-hating black thugs? In fact, aren’t such criminals only acting out in physical terms the same seething anti-white anger, hatred, and vengefulness which has been enacted verbally by the pastor, and through whoops, yells, and cries from the congregration [sic], every week in your church for the last 30 years, and which you have justified as an understandable and inevitable response to racial inequality?
If Sen. Obama has replied, I’m not aware of it. Perhaps he’s not a VFR reader.
The crucial point is that your democratic mind handles these two identical crimes, one real and one imaginary, in very different ways. In the imaginary crime, your reflex is to extend a chain of collective responsibility to all the ideologies, institutions, and individuals who remind you even remotely of the criminal, or can be connected with him in some general way. (Capt. Williams was certainly not ordered to rape an Iraqi journalist.) In the real crime, responsibility extends only to the perpetrator, and perhaps not even to him—after all, he had a difficult childhood.
Dear open-minded progressive, this is how elegantly democracy has infected your brain. To the anonymous London reporter of 1956, the fact that this horrific crime could happen in Manhattan in 2008, and no one, not even the fellow Columbia-trained journalists a hundred blocks downtown, would find it especially important, would suggest some kind of anesthesia, some disconnection of the natural chimpanzee response of fear and rage. But this response has not been disabled in general—because we see it displayed in all its glory when an American soldier puts a pair of underpants on someone’s head, somewhere in Mesopotamia.
Thus we are looking at selective anesthesia—by historical standards, our reaction to one offense is unusually sedated, and our reaction to the other is unusually inflamed. Of course, this does not exclude the possibility that in both cases, the old reaction was wrong and the new reaction was right. But it is difficult for me—perhaps only because I am insufficiently versed in progressive doxology—to construct an ethical explanation of the change. On the other hand, I find it very easy to construct a political explanation of the change.
Here’s another way to look at the same issue. Suppose, dear open-minded progressive, that the San Francisco Police Department embarked on a reign of lawless terror, killing a hundred people or so a year, at least half of whom were innocent, and beating, raping, etc., many more. Would the good progressives of San Francisco stand for it? I think not. Because we don’t believe that the police should be above the law. We believe that when they commit crimes, they should be tried and sent to jail just like everyone else.
So we believe that, ethically, a policeman’s crimes are no different from a street thug’s. Or do we? Not as far as I can tell. I think San Franciscans are much more likely to express fear and anger at the idea of a policeman committing lawless violence. Don’t you find this slightly odd? Which would you rather be hit over the head by: a policeman, or a mugger? I would rather not be hit over the head at all, thank you.
If the SFPD were as high-handed and above the law as the paramilitary gangs it (in theory) opposes, you, dear open-minded progressive, would agree that the only solution is a higher power: the National Guard. They have bigger guns, after all. But if you prefer martial law to the SFPD’s reign of terror, why don’t you prefer martial law to MS-13’s reign of terror?
And this is exactly the problem. The reality is that almost every country in the world today—and certainly every major American city—could use a solid dose of martial law.
Because all are beset by criminal paramilitary organizations which (a) are too powerful to be suppressed by the security forces under the legal system as it presently stands, (b) if judged by the same standards as the security forces constitute a gigantic, ongoing human-rights violation, and (c) if associated with the civilian and nongovernmental organizations which protect them from the security forces, implicate the former as major human-rights violators.
i recently watched the movie capote. i enjoyed it. but, being south african, i was interested in the reaction the movie portrayed of the american community to the murders that the movie is indirectly about. their reaction was shock and dismay. their reaction was right.
but in south africa there is a similar incident every day. i don’t read the newspaper because it depresses me too much. you might wonder why i, a surgeon, am posting on this. one reason may be because i often deal with the survivors (two previous posts found here and here). at the moment i have three patients who are victims of violent crime. one is the victim of a farm attack. an old man who had his head caved in with a spade. why? just for fun, it seems. but maybe the reason i’m writing this post is because i’m south african. this is my country and i’m gatvol.
just three recent stories. some guys broke into a house. they gagged the man. it seemed that whatever they shoved into his mouth was shoved in too deep, because as they lay on the bed violating his wife, he fought for breath and finally died of asphyxiation.
then there is a woman alone at home. some thugs broke in and asked where the safe was. they were looking for guns. she told them she had no safe and no guns. they then took a poker, heated it to red hot and proceeded to torture her with it so that she would tell them what they wanted to hear. because she could not, the torture went on for a number of hours.
then there is the story of a group of thugs that broke in to a house. they shot the man and cut the fingers of the woman off with a pair of garden shears. while the man lay on the floor dying, the criminals took some time off to lounge on the bed eating some snacks they had found in the fridge and watch a bit of television.[…] there is crime everywhere but the most brutal and the violent crimes without clear motives are almost exclusively black on white. this is one more thing the government denies and even labels you as racist if you say it. it may not be put too strongly to say it is very nearly government sanctioned.
We start to smell a small, ugly smell of the future. After all, if all the people in the world could vote, or if they all moved to America, the electorate would look a lot like the New South Africa—the “Rainbow Nation,” the great hope for human oneness. Oops.
Unfortunately, our surgeon’s database is a little out of date. America is no longer shocked by “In Cold Blood” events. There are simply too many of them. But there are nowhere near as many as in South Africa. (And even if I was not convinced by the surgeon’s uncapitalized demeanor, other sources confirm the result.)
In fact the simplest way to evaluate a government for human-rights violations is to think of all violence as the responsibility of the state, whether it is committed by men in uniforms or not. Otherwise, employing paramilitary criminals to do your dirty deeds, for a measure of plausible deniability, is far too easy. And quite popular these days. There is no sharp line between an army and a militia, between a militia and a gang, and between a gang and a bunch of criminals. As the laws of King Ine of Wessex famously put it:
We use the term “thieves” if the number of men does not exceed seven, and “brigands” for a number between seven and thirty-five. Anything beyond this is an “army.”
(A short course in actual Saxon history, such as that linked above, cannot come too soon for many libertarians, who throughout the history of English legal theory have been overfond of construing the medieval world as a paradise of ordered liberty. Indeed we inherit many elegant constructs from medieval law. And one reason they are so elegant is that they had to operate in such a brutal environment of pervasive violence.)
There is no reason at all that a libertarian, such as myself,1 cannot favor martial law. I am free when my rights are defined and secured against all comers, regardless of official pretensions. Freedom implies law; law implies order; order implies peace; peace implies victory. As a libertarian, the greatest threat to my property is not Uncle Sam, but thieves and brigands. If Uncle Sam wakes up from his present sclerotic slumber and shows the brigands a strong hand, my liberty has been increased.
You see what happens when you open your mind and snort the mystery powder. You wind up on YouTube, listening to an effeminate, deceased dictator scream “¡Tendré la mano más dura que se imaginen!” I don’t think that one needs much translation.
And how about this one:
Frankly, I begin to think that the U.S. is about ready for an Il Duce right now…
Except that when you follow the link, it’s not at all what you think. At least, it has nothing to do with the “Pinochet Youth.” The post is actually on a site for insider political gossip in New York State, which was linked from the NYT. And the author strikes me as, rara avis, a completely honest and dedicated career public servant, certainly an Obama voter, and certainly not a follower of Mussolini or any similar figure.
And yet the quote is not out of context at all. Read the essay. If I’m worth your time, Littlefield is too:
Letting go of one’s illusions is a difficult process that takes a long, long time, but I am just about there. From a young age I have been a believer in public services and benefits as a way of providing some measure of assurance for other people, people I rely on every time I purchase a good or service, of a decent life regardless of one’s personal income or standing. After all, I initially chose public service as a career. And I have been a defender of the public institutions when compared with those who were only concerned with their own situation and preference put in less, or get out more, as if the community was a greedy adversary to be beaten in life rather than something one is a part of. Now, however, I see that it is probably hopeless.
Admittedly, Albany is one of the worst Augean stables of bureaucracy in America. If Hercules had to clean it out, he wouldn’t find the Hudson sufficient. He’d have to find a way to get the St. Lawrence involved. But is Albany that different from Sacramento, or from Washington itself? Of course not.
Of course, neither Albany nor Washington needs a Duce. It needs a CEO. Like any gigantic, ancient and broken institution, it has no problem that can’t be fixed by installing new management with plenary authority. (It might help to move the capital, as well. Put it in Kansas City, or better yet San Francisco, so that progressives can see the future up close.)
But the reality is: this thing is done. It is over. It is not fixable by any form of conventional politics. Either you want to keep it, or you want to throw it out. Any other political opinions you may have are irrelevant next to this choice.
On that note, let’s review our rules for reactionaries.
Rule #1 is the one we just stated. Reaction is a boolean decision. Either you want to discard our present political system, including democracy, the Constitution, the entire legal code and body of precedent, the UN, etc., etc., or you think it’s safer to muddle along with what we have now. Either is a perfectly legitimate opinion which a perfectly reasonable person may hold.
Of course, it is impossible to replace something with nothing. I’ve presented some designs for a restoration of secure, responsible and effective government. What I like about these designs is that they’re simple, clear and easy to understand, and they rely on straightforward engineering principles without any mystical element. In particular, they do not require anyone to be a saint.
But here is another simple design: military government. Hand plenary power to the Joint Chiefs. Let them go from there. This won’t do permanently, but for a few years it’d be fine. That should be plenty of time to figure out what comes next.
Here is yet another: restrict voting to homeowners. Note that this was widely practised in Anglo-American history, and for very good reason. As John Jay put it: those who own the country ought to govern it. Mere freehold suffrage is a poor substitute for military government, and it too is not stable in the long run. But it would be opposed by all the same people, and it would constitute a very hard shakeup in exactly the right direction.
Here is a third: dissolve Washington and return sovereignty to the states. Here is a fourth: vest plenary executive authority in the Chief Justice, John Roberts. Here is a fifth: vest plenary executive authority in the publisher of the New York Times, “Pinch” Sulzberger. Here is a sixth: vest plenary executive authority in the Good One, Barack Obama. I am not altogether fond of the jobs that the latter two are doing with the limited authority they have now, but they are at least prepared for power, and real authority tends to create real responsibility in a hurry.
At present, any of these things is such a long way from happening that the choice does not matter at all. What matters, dear open-minded reactionary, is that you have had enough of our present government, you are done, finished, gatvol, and you want to replace it with something else that is secure, responsible, and effective.
In other words, rule #1: the reactionary’s opposition to the present regime is purely negative. Positive proposals for what to replace it with are out of scope, now and for the foreseeable future. Once again, think in terms of the fall of Communism: the only thing that all those who lived under Communism could agree on was that they were done with Communism.
The advantage of rule #1 is that, applied correctly, it ensures a complete absence of internal conflict. There is nothing to argue over. Either you oppose the government, or you support it.
One exception to rule #1 is that the same coherent pure negativity, and resulting absence of bickering, can be achieved by opposing components of the government.
For example, I believe that both America and the rest of the planet would achieve enormous benefits by a total shutdown of international relations, including security guarantees, foreign aid, and mass immigration, and a return to the 19th-century policy of neutrality—an approach easily summarized by the phrase no foreign policy. I believe that government should take no notice whatsoever of race—no racial policy. I believe it should separate itself completely from the question of what its citizens should or should not think—separation of education and state.
These are all purely negative proposals. They all imply lopping off an arm of the octopus, and replacing it with nothing at all. If any of them, or anything similar, is practical and a full reset is not, then all the better. However, any practical outcome in this direction is at present so distant that it is hard to assess plausibility.
Rule #2 is that a restoration cannot succeed by either of the following methods: the Democrats defeating the Republicans, or the Republicans defeating the Democrats. More precisely, it cannot involve imposing progressivism on traditionalists/“fundamentalists,” or traditionalism on progressives.
Traditionalism and progressivism are the two major divisions of Christianity in our time. Not all traditionalists are Catholics, and many progressives are, but “fundamentalism” today occupies the basic political niche of Catholicism in the European tradition, and progressivism is clearly the Protestant mainstream (historically Unitarian, Congregationalist, Methodist, etc.; doctrinally, almost pure Quaker).
If secure, responsible, effective government has to wait until this religious war is over, it will wait forever. Or there will be a new Bartholomew’s Day. Neither of these options is acceptable to me. Are they acceptable to you? Then you may not be a restorationist.
Of course, each of these Christian sects is intimately connected, exactly as Noah Webster describes, with a political party and a set of politically constructed opinions about what government is and how it should be run. Since progressivism is politically dominant, one would expect it to have the most political content and the least religious content, and indeed this is so. And as we’ve seen, in a democracy there is no reason to expect anyone’s political opinions to have any relationship to the actual art of responsible, effective government.
Nonetheless, it is entirely possible to be an apolitical progressive. Progressivism is a culture, not a party. Charity, for example, is a vast part of this culture, and no reasonable person can have anything against charity, as long as it remains a purely personal endeavor and does not develop aspects of political violence, as it did in the late 20th century. Environmentalism is a part of this culture, and who doesn’t live in the environment? Etc., etc., etc.
The fangs can be pulled without much harm to the snake. In fact, the snake has never really needed fangs, and will find itself much more comfortable without them.
Rule #3: in case this is not a corollary of rule #1, a reset implies a total breach with the Anglo-American political tradition.
The fact that an institution is old, and has carried the respect of large populations for decades or centuries, is always a reason to honor and respect it. That you oppose Washington, the real organization that exists in the real world, does not mean that you oppose America, the abstract symbol. (Nor does it mean you oppose America, the continent in the Northern Hemisphere, whose destruction would be quite the engineering feat.) It does not mean that you want to burn or abolish the flag, etc., etc., etc. Similarly, the fact that I’m not a Catholic doesn’t mean that if I met the Pope, I’d say, “Fuck you, Pope!” As a matter of fact I would probably want to kiss his ring, or whatever is the appropriate gesture.
On the other hand, we have no reason to think that the political designs we have inherited from this tradition are useful in any way, shape or form. All we know is that they were more militarily successful than their competitors, which may well have been flawed in arbitrary other ways. If the Axis had defeated the Allies, a feat which was quite plausible in hindsight, we would face a completely different set of reengineering challenges, and it would be the Prussian tradition rather than the Whig that had to be discarded.
Historical validation is a good thing. But history provides an extraordinary range of examples. And there is no strong reason to think the governments recent and domestic are any better than the governments ancient and foreign. The American Republic is over two hundred years old. Great. The Serene Republic of Venice lasted eleven hundred. If you’re designing from the ground up, why start from the first rather than the second?
A total breach does not imply that everything American (or everything Portuguese, if you are trying to reboot Portugal; but not much in the government of modern Portugal is in any sense Portuguese) must be discarded. It means everything American needs to be justified, just as it would be if it was Venetian. If you believe in democracy: why? If you favor a bicameral legislature, a supreme court, a department of agriculture: why?
Rule #4: the only possible weapon is the truth.
I hope it’s unnecessary to say, but it’s worth saying anyway, that the only force which can terminate USG by military means is the military itself. There is no reason to talk about this possibility. If it happens, it will happen. It certainly won’t happen any time soon.
This means that democracy can only be terminated by political means, i.e., democracy itself. Which means convincing a large number of people. Of course, people can be convinced with lies as well as with the truth, but the former is naturally the specialty of the present authorities. Better not to confuse anyone.
What is the truth, anyway? The truth is reality. The truth is what exists. The truth is what rings like a bell when you whack it with the back of a knife. It is very difficult to recognize the truth, but it is much easier to recognize it when it’s right next to an equal and opposite lie. A certain device called the Internet is very good at providing this service.
Here is an example. The wonderful kids at Google, who are all diehard progressives and whom I’m sure would be horrified by the uses I’m making of their services, have done something that I can only compare to Lenin’s old saying about the capitalists: that they would sell the rope that was used to hang them. Likewise, progressives seem determined to publish the books that will discredit them. As in the case of the capitalists, this is because they are good, not because they are evil. But unlike Lenin, we are good as well, and we welcome these accidental unforced errors.
I refer, of course, not to any new books. It is very difficult to get reactionary writing published anywhere, even (in fact, especially, because they are so sensitive on the subject) by the conservative presses. However, as UR readers know, the majority of work published before 1922 is online at Google. It is often hard to read, missing for bizarre reasons that make no sense (why scan a book from 1881 and then not put the scans online?), badly scanned, etc., etc. But it is there, and as we’ve seen it is quite usable.
And there are two things about the pre-1922 corpus. One, it is far, far to the right of the consensus reality that we now know and love. Just the fact that people in 1922 believed X, while today we believe Y, has to shake your faith in democracy. Was the world of 1922 massively deluded? Or is it ours? It could be both, but it can’t be neither. Indeed, even the progressives of the Belle Époque often turn out to be far to the right of our conservatives. WTF?
Two, you can use this corpus to conduct a very interesting exercise: you can triangulate. This is an essential skill in defensive historiography. (If you like UR, you like defensive historiography.)
Historiographic triangulation is the art of taking two or more opposing positions from the past, and using hindsight to decide who was right and who was wrong. The simplest way to play the game is to imagine that the opponents in the debate were reanimated in 2008, informed of present conditions, and reunited for a friendly panel discussion. I’m afraid often the only conceivable result is that one side simply surrenders to the other.
For example, one fun exercise, which you can perform safely for no cost in the privacy of your own home, is to read the following early 20th-century books on the “Negro Question”: The Negro: The Southerner’s Problem, by Thomas Nelson Page (racist, 1904); Following the Color Line, by Ray Stannard Baker (progressive, 1908); and Race Adjustment: Essays on the Negro in America, by Kelly Miller (Negro, 1909). Each of these books is (a) by a forgotten author, (b) far more interesting and well-written than the pseudoscientific schlock that comes off the presses these days, and (c) a picture of a vanished world. Imagine assembling Page, Baker and Miller in a hotel room in 2008, with a videocamera and little glasses of water in front of them. What would they agree on? Disagree on? Dear open-minded progressive, if you fail to profit from this exercise, you simply have no interest in the past.
However, an even more fun one is the now thoroughly forgotten Gladstone–Tennyson debate. I forget how I stumbled on this contretemps, which really does deserve to be among the most famous intellectual confrontations in history. Sadly, dear open-minded progressive, it appears to have been forgotten for a reason. And the reason is not a good one.
You may know that Tennyson, in his romantic youth (1835), wrote a poem called Locksley Hall. Due to its nature as 19th-century dramatic verse, Locksley Hall is unreadable today. But its basic content can be described as romantic juvenile liberalism. Here is some of the pith, if pith there is:
Men, my brothers, men the workers, ever reaping something new:That which they have done but earnest of the things that they shall do:
For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;
Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,Pilots of the purple twilight dropping down with costly bales;
Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain’d a ghastly dewFrom the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue;
Far along the world-wide whisper of the south-wind rushing warm,With the standards of the peoples plunging thro’ the thunder-storm;
Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer, and the battle-flags were furl’dIn the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.
There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law.
I’m not sure whether this is supposed to remind us more of the UN, the British Empire, or Star Trek. Perhaps all three. But you get the idea. The “Parliament of man” couplet, in particular, is rather often quoted.
Well. So, Tennyson was a romantic young liberal when he wrote this. In 1835. In 1885, when he wrote (adding ten years for some dramatic reason) Locksley Hall, Sixty Years After, he was neither romantic, nor young, nor—um—liberal. While the sequel is also unreadable today, for more or less the same reasons, here are some couplets from it:
I myself have often babbled doubtless of a foolish past;Babble, babble; our old England may go down in babble at last.
Truth for truth, and good for good! The Good, the True, the Pure, the Just;Take the charm ‘For ever’ from them, and they crumble into dust.
Gone the cry of ‘Forward, Forward,’ lost within a growing gloom;Lost, or only heard in silence from the silence of a tomb.
Half the marvels of my morning, triumphs over time and space,Staled by frequence, shrunk by usage into commonest commonplace!
‘Forward’ rang the voices then, and of the many mine was one.Let us hush this cry of ‘Forward’ till ten thousand years have gone.
France had shown a light to all men, preached a Gospel, all men’s good;Celtic Demos rose a Demon, shrieked and slaked the light with blood.
Aye, if dynamite and revolver leave you courage to be wise:When was age so crammed with menace? Madness? Written, spoken lies?
Envy wears the mask of Love, and, laughing sober fact to scorn,Cries to Weakest as to Strongest, ‘Ye are equals, equal-born.’
Equal-born? O yes, if yonder hill be level with the flat.Charm us, Orator, till the Lion look no larger than the Cat.
Till the Cat through that mirage of overheated language loomLarger than the Lion,—Demos end in working its own doom.
Those three hundred millions under one Imperial sceptre now,Shall we hold them? Shall we loose them? Take the suffrage of the plow.
Nay, but these would feel and follow Truth if only you and you,Rivals of realm-ruining party, when you speak were wholly true.
Trustful, trustful, looking upward to the practised hustings-liar;So the Higher wields the Lower, while the Lower is the Higher.
Step by step we gained a freedom known to Europe, known to all;Step by step we rose to greatness,—through tonguesters we may fall.
You that woo the Voices—tell them ‘old experience is a fool,’Teach your flattered kings that only those who cannot read can rule.
Tumble Nature heel o’er head, and, yelling with the yelling street,Set the feet above the brain and swear the brain is in the feet.
Bring the old dark ages back without the faith, without the hope,Break the State, the Church, the Throne, and roll their ruins down the slope.
Do your best to charm the worst, to lower the rising race of men;Have we risen from out the beast, then back into the beast again?
Etc. Obviously, either someone has been reading Pobedonostsev, or great minds just happen to think alike. I don’t think you have to be a Victorian liberal to see that this is highly seditious material. Inflammatory, even. Not bad for an old fart.
Well, Gladstone, who was both a Victorian liberal and an old fart himself, reads this, and of course he shits a brick. The poem might as well have been a personal attack on Gladstone himself—especially that bit about “Celtic Demos,” which is not a terribly well-concealed reference to Irish Home Rule.
And what does he do? He’s not just a statesman, but a real aristocrat. Does he challenge Tennyson to a duel? A bit late in the day for that. No, he takes time out, from his busy duties as Prime Minister, to write a response. Not in verse, since taking on Tennyson in trochaic couplets is like challenging Chuck Norris in Fight Club. But Gladstone was a master of prose—listen to this wicked little intro:
The nation will observe with warm satisfaction that, although the new Locksley Hall is, as told by the Calendar, a work of Lord Tennyson’s old age, yet is his poetic “eye not dim, nor his natural force abated.”
Take note, kids. This is how you start out if you’re really going to crucify someone. Gladstone continues by flattering the person for a few paragraphs. Then he flatters the poem for a page or so. Then he changes his angle slightly:
Perhaps the tone may even, at times, be thought to have grown a little hoarse with his years. Not that we are to regard it as the voice of the author.
Oh, no. Not at all. Then (page 319) Gladstone spends another page agreeing with Tennyson. Yes, the French Revolution was terrible. And the riots of Captain Swing. Etc., etc. But it all worked out in the end, didn’t it? What bliss was it to be young, after the First Reform Bill? Etc., etc.
And then finally (page 320) Gladstone launches into full-on shark-attack mode:
During the intervening half century, or near it, the temper of hope and thankfulness, which both Mr. Tennyson and the young Prophet of Locksley Hall so largely contributed to form, has been tested by experience. Authorities and people have been hard at work in dealing with the laws, the policy, and the manners of the country. Their performances may be said to form the Play, intervening between the old Prologue, and the new Epilogue which has just issued from the press. This Epilogue, powerful as it is, will not quite harmonize with the evergreens of Christmas. The young Prophet, now grown old, is not, indeed (though perhaps, on his own showing, he ought to be), in despair. For he still stoutly teaches manly duty and personal effort, and longs for progress more, he trows, than its professing and blatant votaries. But in his present survey of the age as his field, he seems to find that a sadder color has invested all the scene. The evil has eclipsed the good, and the scale, which before rested solidly on the ground, now kicks the beam. For the framing of our estimate, however, prose, and very prosaic prose, may be called in not less than poetry. The question demands an answer, whether it is needful to open so dark a prospect for the Future; whether it is just to pronounce what seems to be a very decided censure on the immediate Past.
What follows is a rather amazing document—a compact and thorough defense of Victorian liberalism and democracy, and its prospects for the future:
In the words of the Prince Consort, “Our institutions are on their trial,” as institutions of self-government; and if condemnation is to be pronounced, on the nation it must mainly fall, and must sweep away with it a large part of such hopes as have been either fanatically or reflectively entertained that, by this provision of self-government, the Future might effect some moderate improvement upon the Past, and mitigate in some perceptible degree the social sorrows and burdens of mankind. I will now, with a view to a fair trial of this question, try to render, rudely and slightly though it be, some account of the deeds and the movement of this last half century.
I should not attempt to abuse Gladstone by excerpting him. But one morsel—especially considering the above—stands out as particularly choice:
One reference to figures may however be permitted. It is that which exhibits the recent movement of crime in this country. For the sake of brevity I use round numbers in stating it. Happily the facts are too broad to be seriously mistaken. In 1870, the United Kingdom with a population of about 31,700,000 had about 13,000 criminals, or one in 1,760. In 1884, with a population of 36,000,000, it had 14,000 criminals, or one in 2,500. And as there are some among us who conceive Ireland to be a sort of pandemonium, it may be well to mention (and I have the hope that Wales might, on the whole, show as clean a record) that with a population of (say) 5,100,000 Ireland (in 1884) had 1,573 criminals, or less than one in 3,200.
Words fail me, dear open-minded progressive, they really do.
But try the experiment: read the rest of Gladstone’s essay, and ask yourself what he and Tennyson would make of the last century of British history, and her condition today. Suffice it to say that I think someone owes someone else an apology. Of course, they’re both dead, so none will be forthcoming.
In general what I find when I perform this exercise, is that—as far to the right of us as 1922 was—the winner of the triangulation tends to be its rightmost vertex. Not on every issue, certainly, but most. (I’m sure that if I was to try the same trick with, say, Torquemada and Spinoza, the results would be different, but I am out of my historical depth much past the late 18C.)
What’s wonderful is that if you doubt these results, you can play the game yourself. Bored in your high-school class? Read about the Civil War and Reconstruction and slavery. Unless you’re a professional historian, you certainly won’t be assigned the primary sources I just linked to. But no one can stop you, either. (At least not until Google adds a “Flag This Book” button.)
I am certainly not claiming that everything you find in Google Books, or even everything I just linked to, is true. It is not. It is a product of its time. What’s true, however, is that each book is the book it says it is. Google has not edited it. And if it says it was published in 1881, nothing that happened after 1881 can have affected it.
Here is another exercise in defensive historiography: skim this facile 2008 treatment of Francis Lieber, then read the actual document that Lieber wrote. The primary source is not only better-written, but shorter and more informative as well. (One page is mis-scanned, but one can make out the wonderful words “the utmost rigor of the military law”…)
You’ll see immediately that the main service Professor Bosco, the modern historian, provides, is to deflect you from the brutal reality that Lieber feeds you straight. Lieber says: do Y, because if you do X, Z will happen. The Union Army did Y, and Z did not happen. The US in Iraq, and modern counterinsurgency forces more generally, did X, and Z happened.
The modern law of warfare, which Lieber more or less founded, has been twisted into an instrument which negates everything he believed. The results have been the results he predicted. I know it’s a cliche—but history is too important to be left to the historians.
Rule #5: quality is better than quantity. At least when it comes to supporters.
Any political conspiracy, reactionary or revolutionary, is in the end a social network. And we observe an interesting property of social networks: their quality tends to decline over time. It does not increase. Facebook, for example, succeeded where Friendster and Orkut failed, by restricting its initial subscriber base to college students, which for all their faults really are the right side of the bell curve.
In order to make an impact on the political process, you need quantity. You need moronic, chanting hordes. There is no way around this. Communism was not overthrown by Andrei Sakharov, Joseph Brodsky and Václav Havel. It was overthrown by moronic, chanting hordes. I suppose I shouldn’t be rude about it, but it’s a fact that there is no such thing as a crowd of philosophers.
Yet Communism was overthrown by Sakharov, Brodsky and Havel. The philosophers did matter. What was needed was the combination of philosopher and crowd—a rare and volatile mixture, highly potent and highly unnatural.
My view is that up until the very last stage of the reset, quality is everything and quantity is, if anything, undesirable. On the Internet, ideas spread like crazy. And they are much more likely to spread from the smart to the dumb than the other way around.
One person and one blog is nowhere near sufficient, of course. What we need is a sort of counter-Cathedral: an institution which is actually more trustworthy than the university system. The universities are the brain of USG, and the best way to kill anything is to shoot it in the head.
To be right when the Cathedral is wrong is to demonstrate that we live under a system of government which is bound together by the same glue that held up Communism: lies. You do not need a triple-digit IQ to know that a regime held up by lies is doomed. You also do not need a triple-digit IQ to help bring down a doomed regime. Everyone will volunteer for that job. It’s as much fun as anything in the world.
Solely for the purpose of discussion, let’s call this counter-Cathedral Resartus—from Carlyle’s great novel, Sartor Resartus (The Tailor Reclothed).
The thesis of Resartus is that the marketplace of ideas, free and blossoming as it may seem, is or at least may be infected with lies. These lies all have one thing in common: they are related to the policies of modern democratic governments. Misinformation justifies misgovernment; misgovernment subsidizes misinformation. This is our feedback loop.
On the other hand, it’s clear that modern democratic governments are doing many things right. Perhaps in all circumstances they are doing the best they can. Perhaps there is no misinformation at all. The hypothesis that such feedback loops can form is not a demonstration that they exist.
Therefore, the mission of Resartus is to establish, using that crowdsourced wiki-power we are all familiar with, the truth on every dubious subject. Perhaps the truth will turn out to be the official story, in which case we can be happy.
The two sites today which are most like Resartus are Climate Audit and Gene Expression. Both of these are, in my humble opinion, scientific milestones. CA’s subject is climatology; GNXP’s subject is human biodiversity. There are also some general-purpose truth verifiers, such as Snopes, but Snopes is hopelessly lightweight next to a CA or a GNXP.
CA and GNXP are unique because their mission is to be authorities in and of themselves. They do not consider any source reliable on the grounds of mere institutional identity. Nor do they assume any institutional credibility themselves. They simply try to be right, and as far as I can tell (lacking expertise in either of their fields, especially the statistical background to really work through their work) they are.
CA—created and edited by one man, Steve McIntyre, who as far as I’m concerned is one of the most important scientists of our generation—is especially significant, because unlike GNXP (which is publicizing mainstream research that many would rather see unpublicized), McIntyre, starting with no credentials or academic career at all is actually attacking and attempting to destroy a major flying buttress of the Cathedral. And one with major political importance, not to mention economic. Imagine a cross between Piltdown Man, the Dreyfus Affair, and Enron, and you might get the picture.
If the fields behind anthropogenic global warming (AGW), paleoclimatology and climate modeling, are indeed pseudosciences and go down in history as such, I find it almost impossible to imagine what will happen to their promoters. Their promoters being, basically, everyone who matters. McIntyre is best known for his exposure of the hockey stick, but what’s amazing is that CA seems to find a similar abuse of mathematics, data, or both—typically less prominent—about every other week or two.
The scientific achievement of GNXP is less stunning, but its implications are, if anything, larger. I’ve discussed human neurological uniformity and its absence already (Chapter 9). But let’s just say that a substantial component of our political, economic, and academic system has completely committed its credibility to a proposition that might be called the International White Conspiracy. Statistical population variations in human neurology do not strike me as terribly exciting per se—a responsible, effective government should be able to deal with anything down to your high-end Homo erectus. Lies, however, are always big news. If there is a much, much simpler explanation of reality which does not require an International White Conspiracy, that is a problem for quite a few people—the vast majority of whom are, in fact, white.
At the same time, CA and GNXP and relatives (LvMI, though it’s not just a website, has many of the same fine qualities) were not designed as general-purpose information-warfare devices. There is some crossover, but I suspect most CA posters are unaware of or uninterested in GNXP, and often the reverse. Many people are natural specialists, of course, and this is normal.
The idea of Resartus—which, as usual, anyone can build in their own backyard (contact me if you are interested in resartus.org) is to build a general-purpose site for answering a variety of large, controversial questions. A smart person should be able to visit Resartus and decide, with a minimum of effort, who is right about AGW or human biodiversity or peak oil or the Kennedy assassination or evolution or string theory or 9/11 or the Civil War or….
To build a credible truth machine, it’s important to generate true negatives as well as true positives. For example, I favor the conventional wisdom on evolution and 9/11. On peak oil and the Kennedys, I simply don’t know enough to decide. (Actually, I live in terror of the idea that someone will convince me that Oswald didn’t act alone. So I try to avoid the matter.) Therefore, I would hope that any attempt to audit Darwin, as McIntyre audited Mann, would result in a true negative.
The easiest way to describe the problem of Resartus is to describe it as a crowdsourced trial. Indeed, any process that can determine the truth or falsity of AGW, etc., should be a process powerful enough to determine criminal guilt or innocence. Certainly many of these issues are well into that category of importance—in fact, I would not be surprised if one day we see legal proceedings in the global-warming department. There have already been some suspicious signs of “lawyering up.”
A trial is not a blog, nor is it a discussion board. One of the main flaws of Climate Audit is that it does not provide a way for AGW skeptics and believers to place each others’ arguments and evidence side by side, making it as easy as possible for neutral third parties to evaluate who is right. I am confident that CA is on the money, but much of this confidence is gut feeling.
In the evolution world, the talk.origins index to creationist claims has probably come the closest to setting out a structured argument for evolution, in which every possible creationist argument is listed and refuted. However, a real trial is adversarial. The prosecutor does not get to make the defense lawyer’s arguments.
On Resartus, the way this would work is that the creationist community itself would be asked to list its claims, and edit them collectively, producing the best possible statement of the creationist case. Not showing up should not provide an advantage, so evolutionists should be able to add and refute their own creationist claims. Creationists should in turn be able to respond to their responses, and so ad infinitum, until both sides feel they have said their piece.
As an evolutionist, I feel that this process, which could continue indefinitely as the argument tree is refined, evidence exhibits were added, etc., etc., would demonstrate very clearly that evolutionists are right and creationists are blowing smoke. As a matter of fact, as someone who’s served on a jury, I feel that such an argument tree would be far more useful than verbal lectures from the competing attorneys.
And if these structures were available on one site for a wide variety of controversial issues, it would be very, very easy for any smart young person with a few hours to spare to see what the pattern of truth and error, and its inevitable political associations, started to look like. It certainly will not be easy to construct a nexus of more reliable judgments than the university system itself, but at some point someone will do it. And I think the results will be devastating.
When I look at the thinking of people who disagree with me, and especially when I look at the thinking of the educated public at large (New York Times comments, on the few articles which they are enabled for, are an invaluable vox populi for the Obamabot crowd) I am often struck by the fact that their perspective differs from mine as a result of small, seemingly irrelevant details in the interpretation of reality.
If you believe that John Kerry was telling the truth about his voyages into Cambodia, for example, you will hear the word “Swiftboating” in a very different way. On a larger subject, if James Watson is right, our historical interpretation of the 1860s will simply have to change. Details matter. Facts matter.
Our democratic institutions today, though far more distributed and open than the systems of Goebbels or Vyshinsky, are basically designed to run on an information system that funnels truth down from the top of the mountain. This is a brittle design. If it breaks—if it starts distributing sewage along with the rosewater—it loses its credibility. If it loses its credibility, the government loses its legitimacy. When a government loses its legitimacy, you don’t want to be standing under it.
The Cathedral is called the Cathedral for another reason: it’s not the Bazaar. Coding, frankly, is pretty easy. Reinterpreting reality is hard. Nonetheless, I think this thing will come down one of these days. And I would rather be outside it than under it.
An Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives
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