Having now been definitively disinvited from the Seasteading Conference, I now feel I would be extremely remiss if I did not post my complete thoughts on the matter. I promise that this will be the last discussion of seasteading at UR for quite some time.
I’ll put my thoughts in the form of a conversation with Patri Friedman. Since I have not asked Patri for prior permission, I will not include his side of the conversation—just my own responses. Quote blocks have been replaced with code letters, which Patri can fill in, if he or anyone cares.
In case you are just done with this whole seasteading thing, to summarize: IMHO, seasteading is a brilliant example, in at least three regards, of What Not To Do. I persist with this business not to torment you (or Patri, or his equally excellent associates), but to illustrate general errors that anyone trying to solve the same problems is likely to make. These general errors have nothing to do with TSI or the ocean life.
Granted, seasteading is a better plan than anyone else’s plan I have seen. But it is nowhere near as good as my plan—which is nowhere near good enough. Basically, everyone is understating how dire and impossible the situation is. Probably even me.
Indeed. I sincerely appreciate both the original invitation, and the time you’ve put into reconsidering it. I hope I’ve made your second decision as easy and painless as possible.
Patri, please don’t take this the wrong way. But one thing that’s nice about being disinvited from your conference is that now, I can say what I really think about seasteading.
If you recall, I had not exactly endorsed it. But I feel that, despite my self-destructive insistence on unconditional Carlylean veracity (note that Carlyle himself pulled this kind of trip all the time, remaining violently aloof from all position, patronage or alliance—which certainly did not render his existence any more fun; sometimes I want to invent a time machine, just so I can send him some Prilosec), my previous utterances, public and private, had portrayed seasteading in a somewhat warmer light than I feel, on reflection, it deserves.
Nothing in the picture was false. There was just a little flexfill on the face—a mild fake glow. Which now I feel the obligation to remove, for the same reason I felt obliged to revile Professor Romer. TSI, since it has chosen to wear the Ring and soar with the pigs, does not just suffer from Ring disease. It transmits Ring disease. To which I am by no means immune.
In the cold natural light of Carlylean veracity, the only problem with seasteading is that it is doomed. It is doomed because it depends existentially on a complete misconception of reality, and in particular of 20th-century history. This misconception, while part of the standard interpretation of the real world held by almost everyone in it, is nonetheless a misconception. The Romer incident illustrates it perfectly.
Perhaps you remember the original Doom, the single-player shareware version, which I was recently amused to encounter running on a seatback Linux screen on a Virgin America flight. A long time ago in a galaxy far away, I was so good at Doom that I could finish the game, slaying the Baron of Hell, without saving, and without using any weapon but the pistol. I realize that this will not impress the 21st-century gamer—but I mention it nonetheless. But the point is: you cannot win in Doom. Once you defeat the Baron and activate the pentagram, you fall into a pit containing an infinite number of demons, which destroy you in a few seconds. You are, truly, doomed. As soon as you start the game.
According to my own poor counterfeit of Carlyle’s crystal ball, fate holds just this doom for seasteading. I am not saying that seasteading will fail because of this particular misconception. Many other demons could slay it first, and probably will. If it survives all the other levels, though, its endgame is the pit.
Or so I fear. I have never been wrong in this kind of prediction. But I have never made one, either. I hope I am wrong; and even if I am not wrong, trying can still be plenty of fun. Unfortunately, though, I know I am right.
The misconception appears in your use of the word “governments,” plural. Your picture of political reality on Planet Three appears to be: the planet’s land area is divided into 200-odd sovereign states, whose interactions are governed by international law. Its ocean is separated into territorial waters, which are controlled by the pertinent government, and international waters, which are regulated by international law. This is what everyone learns in school.
Now, you know this is not a perfectly correct picture. You know that many of the real ways in which the real world operates do not conform to this picture. You know it because you’ve read UR, and you knew it before there was a UR. No one with any sense believes that this is a genuine, accurate picture of Planet Three’s political structure. But because this is Planet Three’s nominal political structure, it remains the language in which we speak. We can still challenge it with a terrific effort of the frontal lobes; when we turn our attention elsewhere, it returns.
Take Professor Romer. To the readers of Time Magazine in 1997, he is just an ordinary person, a private citizen who teaches at an institution of higher learning, who happens to be one of the 25 most powerful people in America. (Previously, I had said “the world,” but I just rechecked—not, as you’ll note, that there is much difference. UR readers may also enjoy Reason’s interview of Professor Romer, “poolside by his house, which overlooks a huge expanse of rolling ranchland owned by Stanford University.” One can almost picture the fellatio.)
To me, the explanation is simple. Professor Romer is a senior government official. What would you expect one of the most 25 powerful people in America to be? A landscaping contractor?
Ah—but I made another little change in the quote. My mask of veracity is slipping! The quote was not: “one of the 25 most powerful people in America.” It was: “one of the 25 most influential people in America.”
Well, influential over what? Professor Romer could be influential over many things. Poetry, for instance, or landscaping. Or ghetto rap. So what is he influential over? Well… um… economics. And what is economics? The study of how the economy should be managed by… um… the government? So Professor Romer is (assuming the Time author is, and has remained, correct—which is a big if) influential over… the government? In what way, therefore, is the word power incorrect?
So in the pretend world, the formal world, the world implied by our use of the English language, Professor Romer is a humble teacher. In the real world, he is a government official, and a very powerful one—if not exactly one of the top 25, perhaps. (I have no idea how anyone would construct such a ridiculous ranking.)
Now, we remember our Carlyle:
It is probably the hugest disclosure of falsity in human things that was ever at one time made. These reverend Dignitaries that sat amid their far-shining symbols and long-sounding long-admitted professions, were mere Impostors, then? Not a true thing they were doing, but a false thing. The story they told men was a cunningly devised fable; the gospels they preached to them were not an account of man’s real position in this world, but an incoherent fabrication, of dead ghosts and unborn shadows, of traditions, cants, indolences, cowardices,–a falsity of falsities, which at last ceases to stick together. Wilfully and against their will, these high units of mankind were cheats, then; and the low millions who believed in them were dupes,–a kind of inverse cheats, too, or they would not have believed in them so long.
So, basically: in the ghost world, the world I described earlier, the world of 200 countries and international oceans—the world that everyone thinks they live in, those dupes or inverse cheats—seasteading is, or at least might be, a viable plan. In the real world, which exists, it ain’t.
In the real Planet Three, as we’ve seen, the government is much larger than in the ghost Planet Three. For instance, in the ghost Planet Three, Paul Romer is a private citizen. In the real Planet Three, he is a government official. He is not the only one.
And in the ghost Planet Three, USG governs America, on behalf of Americans. In the real Planet Three, an entity that includes USG plus its immense penumbra—call it EUSG—governs the world, on behalf of—God knows who. Itself, basically.
In the real Planet Three, USG is incredibly powerful. There is no reason to think that any ship or structure, anywhere at sea, will be able to sustain any nontrivial infringement of US law—especially if any part of its organizational structure includes US persons or US entities.
But EUSG is even more powerful. Because EUSG includes those nebulous and distributed forces that comprise “international public opinion.” I.e., the organs which dictate international public opinion—since people, generally, are not philosophers and believe what they are told to believe. While these organs are not monolithic or hierarchically organized, they somehow magically seem to always agree with each other. The Washington Post never gets into an organizational catfight with the New York Times, or Harvard with Stanford. This, of course, is because all are ticks on the same horse—Washington—and must gallop together.
Imagine a stateless seastead city that could defy US law. You are probably fantasizing. But you might get away with it, if your seastead city had “international public opinion” on its side. Now, imagine a stateless city that could defy “international public opinion.” You are really fantasizing—that is, under today’s world order. You seek to change that order; you cannot assume what you are trying to achieve.
Thus the appeal of seasteading depends existentially on the very illusions it seeks to destroy. “Not a true thing, but a false thing.” In the ghost universe, the oceans of Planet Three are a free space for new experiments in government. In the real universe, they are a space administered by a single government—and have been for over 200 years. Until 1914, that government was HMG. Since 1945, it has been USG. When you go to sea, you are swimming in USG’s pond. Frankly, you might as well do your seasteading on Lake Superior.
Does international law assure you of this right, or that right, or the other right, at sea? No doubt Martian law also assures you of many fine privileges. Carlyle tells us: there is no right that is not also a might. Should your rights be violated, to whom will you appeal? If the judge of appeal is also the violator, or there is no judge, there is no law and no rights. More phantoms.
(You know this. In fact, you say it in your book. But knowing is one thing; realizing another.)
There are genuine lacunae in EUSG’s global sovereignty. China, for instance, or Russia. These nominal nations, rebel provinces of a sort, approach something like real sovereignty—although their ruling parties are still descendants of American progressivism (i.e., Communism), and they have not confirmed their independence by formally rejecting the transnational institutions of the American era. If China dropped out of the UN, we would really know that the Middle Kingdom had regrown a testicle or two.
But China and Russia are not new lacunae, and their quasi-sovereignty is maintained by one thing: military power. A seastead will never achieve military power, because it will never be allowed to start achieving military power. Terrestrial resistance to USG is conceivable under certain circumstances, preferably not including me. Naval resistance is inconceivable under any circumstance.
This is the demon-filled pit. The endgame problem with seasteading is that your “alternatives to government,” your pelagic argosies, will either become sovereign, or not. Sovereignty, like virginity, being boolean.
Until you have a realistic plan to become sovereign, you have no realistic plan to escape. You can spend all the time you want, and have all the fun you want, pretending to be free. Or planning to pretend to be free. In Washington, however, they know the difference—and always will.
IMHO, no realistic plan for attaining sovereignty under the present world order can be constructed—unless it starts with one of the terrestrial provinces now known as “nations.” And even then, it ain’t no picnic. Old South Africa, as you may know, even had the Bomb. But what could it do against “international public opinion?” In the end, squat. Its endgame was the universal fate of all those who have opposed EUSG: unconditional surrender.
Yes, the future is infinite, and USG may weaken. It will weaken. It is already weakening. (The Boere might have had a decent chance if they’d held out another generation.) But if it gets weak enough that you can already set up your own country at sea, your goal is already in some sense achieved. We are nowhere near that level of weakness. A world in which it has arrived is so different from ours as to be unrecognizable, and no realistic plan can be made for it. Moreover, my magic snowdome te lls me that any such degradation will be more catastrophic than gradual.
Thus, the promise of independence through seasteading is—if I am right—snake oil. That many people find it attractive and compelling is not evidence that it is actually an effective remedy. Most vendors of snake oil believe in their elixir, and of course TSI—if I am right—is in this class. Still, one does have an obligation not to sell snake oil.
However, it should be noted that while snake oil will not cure your cancer, it can still be remarkably tasty on a salad—especially if paired with a good balsamic. Do you want to live in a libertarian commune at sea? By all means, live in a libertarian commune at sea! Your expenses will be much higher than if you chose, say, Inyo County. But Inyo County has no bracing marine air, no enforced feeling of we’re-all-in-this-together, no seagulls catching crusts off the poop deck. Heck, if your boat has good childcare, I might even apply to live there myself.
So I am certainly not advising you to give up your venture, not that you would anyway. I just feel required to warn you that it is doomed. But who knows what you will find along the way? The essential reference is Cavafy’s great Ithaka:
[…] Keep Ithaka always in your mind. Arriving there is what you are destined for. But do not hurry the journey at all. Better if it lasts for years, so you are old by the time you reach the island, wealthy with all you have gained on the way, not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey. Without her you would not have set out. She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you. Wise as you will have become, so full of experience, you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
Cavafy is definitely my nigga.
I have a different view of the matter—expressed in my Law of Sewage (which is not mine—if anyone knows the origin, please email me). The Cathedral indeed contains many shades. They are not shades of grey, however. They are shades of brown. A drop of wine in a barrel of sewage makes sewage; a drop of sewage in a barrel of wine makes sewage.
Of course, many professors and journalists are perfectly normal, decent people. Especially in person. The problem is not the people, but the system. The exact same thing could be said of the “people’s democracies.” Yet we still condemn them, and justly so. We also condemn the individuals who collaborated with them.
Suppose, for example, you were judging the life of a person who lived most of his life in East Germany. You know nothing about this person, but you are asked to fill in for St. Peter and judge him. Your first question will be: was he, in any way, involved with the government? If so, what was the nature of his involvement? Unless the first answer is no or the second is somehow mitigating, your initial judgment will be negative. You are applying the Law of Sewage.
Against sewage, total isolation is the only hygiene. You know the kind of isolation that you try to preserve between yourself and the Aryan Brotherhood? Or the kind of isolation that Professor Romer tries to preserve between himself and me? I mean that kind of isolation.
This is no more than history expects of a German in 1933–45, or an East German in 1945–89. It is not even slightly onerous. We have yet to see how history, once it can do so objectively, will judge our era and regime—but I don’t expect it to be particularly kind. Do you?
Even the most well-intentioned and scholarly professor in the modern American university—your father, for instance—must be aware that he is going to work at an institution that claims to be oblivious to race, creed and color, but contains a Department of African-American Studies. Every time he thinks of this, which is as seldom as possible, he has to cringe inside and look away. He knows that there is something very deeply not-right here, and that it is getting worse rather than getting fixed.
How do you think a well-intentioned professor, a “person of good will,” in the Third Reich or the Soviet bloc responded? Exactly the same way. The only difference is the magnitude. And the Modern Structure, being still extant, may not yet be guilty of its worst atrocities. (Though if you ascribe Communism and the Third World to it, these are surely more than enough.)
If you’re curious about the mind of man under socialism, a long book but well worth reading is Victor Klemperer’s diary from his East German period, published in English as The Lesser Evil. Klemperer, a brilliant linguist and social critic, and before the war a German nationalist, survived the Third Reich as a Jew in Germany (producing his more famous diaries, and the brilliant Language of the Third Reich), became a high-status member of the Communist regime, ending up in the East German Parliament (as an arts delegate). Everything you could ever want to know about the corruption of the mind is in these two works.
There is also a much shorter work I have recommended to you before, Czeslaw Milosz’s The Captive Mind. In addition, C.S. Lewis’s The Inner Ring (online) is not to be scoffed at. And please do read the Carlyle—it is genuinely relevant.
Ah! Now we are cooking with gas. Let me rephrase what you just said in terms of rings—Tolkien’s, not Lewis’s. Your three reasons, young Mr. Boromir, why you find it so prudent to don the Ring:
1: Seems to work perfectly—kills Orcs like a charm. 2: No adverse health effects whatsoever. 3: Can take it off any time I like.
Let me add a fourth, which you did not say:
4: Makes me feel big and warm and full of pep.
You may doubt this metaphor, but it is quite accurate. Let me explain. It is always a little bit of work to realize what the Ring’s long-term adverse health effects will look like, but once you see them you know them.
There is a very simple reason why it is a bad idea to recruit seasteading supporters through the New York Times, or any other organ of the Cathedral. Assuming, for purpose of debate, that this is an approach which will be effective on an ongoing basis, and not just a curiosity of launch.
The reason again is a long-term reason. While I am not denying that using the Ring can add to your near-term success—as Rings always do—using this particular Ring makes it particularly impossible to achieve the political objective of seasteading, i.e., sovereignty. Of course, we have seen above that this is impossible. Nonetheless, if you find your followers through the Times, it is impossible squared. I have heard of people doing the impossible, but never squared.
The problem is that the people you recruit in this manner will be people who read the New York Times. Now, I read the New York Times, you read the New York Times. We are not taken in by the New York Times—though resisting its pull requires our constant energy. However, if you only recruit people who read the New York Times, but are not taken in by the New York Times, you are not getting much out of its Ringly services.
Thus, a substantial percentage of the people on your ships will be people who believe in the New York Times. Are we getting warmer here? Are you starting to see how this might be an issue?
The fundamental problem is that the project of seasteading makes it easy to conflate (why is it that when I use the word “conflate” in ordinary conversation, people laugh at me?) two problems. Both are very difficult—if not impossible. But solving the first by no means implies solving the second.
The first is the problem of building a new sovereign, or at least quasi-sovereign, at sea. Or better yet, a thousand new sovereigns.
The second is the problem of building a new sovereign (or better, a thousand), with some other kind or kinds of government than exist presently in the world. To call the effort a success, you need at least one kind of sovereign: the kind you yourself prefer. You are not, after all, a Ringwraith yet—you still have a mind of your own.
We see immediately that while the first is a fun and interesting exercise, the second is your actual political goal. Whether one new nation or a thousand, if all your seastead communities are run like Ireland or Sweden or Costa Rica—i.e., like all civilized governments on earth today—you have conquered the first demon pit, and still wasted all your time and energy.
You are making the classic error of assuming a normal distribution. You assume that if a thousand nations bloom, they will be a thousand different kinds of nation. Or at least two. Of course, we have two hundred nations—or “nations”—today, and they all run exactly the same operating system: Washington’s, modulo various barbaric degradations.
What this tells you is that—as we’ve seen—these “nations” are not really independent. In the literal sense of a statistical variable. The forms of government in the “nations” of the world today are distributed all right, but they are not distributed around any absolute center. They are distributed around Washington. This cannot possibly be a coincidence.
To put it slightly differently, you are fudging the question of “sovereignty.” You would do very well to look up the definition of Vattel, and stick with that. Under the definition of Vattel, Ireland and Sweden and Costa Rica are not true sovereigns; they are protectorates of USG. At best. “Provinces” is not an argument I will make, but it is not much of a stretch. In short, the “international community” is in reality the American Empire. Duh.
Therefore, if your spontaneous maritime community becomes sovereign in the same sense that Ireland and Sweden and Costa Rica are sovereign, it is (a) not sovereign at all, at least not according to classical international law; and (b) almost certain to operate under the exact same principles as Ireland and Sweden and Costa Rica, for the same reasons that Ireland and Sweden and Costa Rica operate under those principles. And if (c) your initial demographic resembles the governing caste of Ireland and Sweden and Costa Rica (and of the US), especially in the automatic credibility they ascribe to certain prestigious institutions of journalism and higher learning—your latitude for maneuver becomes extremely limited.
Why, exactly, are all civilized governments on earth run in the way they are? Because they are all run, more or less, by the New York Times. More precisely, they are run by civil servants, who were trained by professors, both of whose reward systems are administered by the New York Times. This is the direct path. On the indirect path, ten percent of the population reads the Times or a comparable highbrow organ; the other ninety gets its thought from more lowbrow intermediaries, who all read the Times and wish they worked there. Together, these paths form the Modern Structure, which if not indestructible is almost so.
The Modern Structure is certainly not confined to North America. It is, once again, global. Its physical power derives from USG’s and its intellectual center is somewhere on the Atlantic seaboard, so it is safe in one sense to describe it as EUSG. But its purest realizations are in Europe. So the continent of Richelieu, Metternich and Frederick gives us “European socialism.” It would not be the first time a product has been exported, then relabeled for import.
And why would all your seastead states—especially your first, which is at first your only—be operated according to the Modern Structure? Well, why wouldn’t they? After all, most of your seasteaders, not to mention your investors and supporters, believe in the New York Times. Which is the Structure, at a crude approximation.
As Hume first observed, all governments are in a sense democratic. They require consent from at least their armed security forces. Public opinion always matters. An experimental community such as a seastead (if you are looking to start with a floating libertarian commune, by the way, don’t miss Charles Nordhoff’s Communistic Societies of the United States (1875)) is especially sensitive to it. There is nothing more fragile than a commune, although when it comes to communal cohesion being imprisoned at sea certainly doesn’t hurt.
Thus, it is difficult to imagine that any first seastead can be governed in an authoritarian manner by TSI—unless, of course, TSI comes with its own ideology, and enforces it formally or socially. This could be done, and in fact I would recommend it. But it pretty much burns your bridges with the New York Times—for which the word “cult” will become both obvious and enticing. More on this later.
If disagreement is not filtered out by some such authoritarian mechanism—people will disagree. They will bicker and rebel and quit, unless you have elections. You will have those elections, and by finding seasteaders through the Times, you give the Times a vote in them. A large vote. (It already had a vote, of course, because it can move the arms and legs of USG. The enemy always gets a vote.)
By recruiting through the Times, your experiment in alternative government has stumbled into the web of adaptive, distributed Gleichschaltung that makes all Washington’s ticks, or almost all, think, say and do the same things. It too becomes coordinated. In fact, I suspect it’s quite likely that any successful experiment in seasteading will quickly develop a distinctly progressive flavor. It will be quite literally “alternative.” Conquest’s second law: any institution that is not explicitly right-wing becomes left-wing.
Great, you say—we libertarians will hop off the lefty ship, and start our own ship! A progressive seastead is better than no seastead at all. It validates the market, as we say in the Valley. And the ocean is big enough for everyone. So we can still hope for change.
True in theory, but not in practice. First of all, you have added an extremely difficult, stressful and traumatic phase to your program. The trauma is far in the future, like most consequences of wearing in the Ring. But if Conquest’s second law applies (and if you doubt that it applies, try to think of a case in which it has not), seasteading will either fail by definition, or have to go through a painful process of division, purgation or self-purgation. Depending on who is in the majority.
This process itself is highly morbid and quite possibly fatal, and the sooner it is accomplished the better. Obviously, one can accomplish it immediately by starting as a right-wing extremist conspiracy—like UR. Obviously, this means no tongue baths from the Times.
If this separation is put off indefinitely, the consequences will be even worse. The mores of the emerging seasteading community (assuming that seasteading succeeds, and that Conquest’s 2nd law applies) will be most decidedly progressive—like Europe, more American than America. Its collective attitude toward EUSG, or “international public opinion,” will be one of complete and enthusiastic submission and collaboration. Every seastead will be green, sustainable and diverse.
And a community that attempts to violate these norms will simply not be permitted to exist. Just as all terrestrial nations must now conform to American norms. Toleration is not a historical characteristic of extreme Puritanism—of which progressivism is your current incarnation. Moreover, since USG and its navy still exist under all imagined circumstances, the mechanism for enforcement is easily apparent.
So, far from validating the market, a progressive seasteading movement may actually capture the market—permanently ruining any opportunity that may exist, and making it obviously and effectively impossible to establish any state both new and unusual. Even once seasteading is established and normal, if your fellow seasteaders fail to take your side in any dispute with EUSG, you are probably going to lose. Power has not been eradicated from the world.
A seasteading project that solves the first problem, but not the second—that becomes sovereign, but in a politically assimilated condition—has solved the hard and unimportant part of the problem, and ignored the easy and important part. It has established its temporal sovereignty. It has ignored the much more essential matter of intellectual sovereignty.
The truth about Ireland, Sweden and Costa Rica is that each of these governments is physically capable of achieving far more sovereignty than it has. It just doesn’t want to. Its body, while not especially free, is far freer than its mind, which is slave to the latest Harvard fashions.
The second goal can be described as that of creating a new government (or “government alternative,” or whatever euphemism you anarchists prefer), that thinks for itself. Clearly, the project of creating a new regime from scratch, via seasteading, political action, military action, or any other form of action, is a delightful alternative to the impossible task of convincing an existing government to think different.
However, the order in which TSI is proceeding is extremely peculiar in the light of this goal. One would think you would want to recruit a homogeneous base of supporters who all, or at least mostly, think different, then persuade them to go to sea. Instead, TSI recruits promiscuously, deploying the witcheries of the Cathedral and signing up whatever pops out of the pentagram.
In the parlance of today’s democracy, seasteading is a “big tent.” No one is turned away. Note, once again, that this is the obvious way to build any movement. More supporters are better than fewer supporters. The bigger the tent, the more people fit in it.
My advice to TSI: learn from Hitler. Or Stalin, if you prefer. Your big tent will do nothing but flap around in the wind. Said wind only blows in one direction: toward Washington. (All the trees in Fairfax County bend north.) The first thing you need is a party line. Also, when you get anywhere near governing, a shadow state.
All the really ruthless, effective political operations of the 20th century had both these things. The NSDAP, for instance, was prepared to run Germany at the flip of a switch, and so were all its extremist competitors, right and left. When you voted for any of these parties, you were voting to grant it absolute control of the state in order to implement its 25-point proposal, or whatever.
Of course, TSI is trying to create a new polity rather than conquer an existing one, but the same rules apply. Sovereignty is indivisible and ineradicable. Either you and your ideas control your new state, or someone else and their ideas do. Probably the Times.
The first thing you realize, once you compose your party line, is that followers who do not actually follow the party line are useless as tits on a boar hog. Perhaps you can trick them into giving you money, but that never lasts. You certainly don’t want them on your boat—they will gang up and start outvoting you.
Thus, your operation must be selective. It must not recruit indiscriminately. Especially not through hostile propaganda organs! And when you reduce the number of supporters that fit in the inclusive big tent, to the number of supporters that fit in the exclusive small tent—i.e., actually agree with you and each other—you have the number of supporters that you actually have. These are the people who are reliable and will support you in a conflict. As for the others—what do you need from them? Their money? Is it honest to take it?
For any kind of collective political action, whether capturing a state or creating a new one, a smaller, more cohesive, tightly disciplined and indoctrinated movement is much more powerful and effective than a larger, more amorphous, loosely organized and weakly indoctrinated one. Especially if the latter is heavily contaminated with actual opponents of your actual ideology—you know, the one you actually believe. (Not being a Ringwraith.)
Tolerance is not synonymous with indifference. It is easy to be tolerant while the actual points of conflict remain unimaginably remote, but since you intend to succeed, they will not always remain remote. Always better to resolve them earlier. There is always a small tent inside the big tent, because you yourself have actual opinions. (If this is not so, the battle is already lost.)
Doesn’t this perspective just violate every fiber of your democratic body? If you have spent a little while at UR, you recognize this feeling of moral violation. It is the feeling that you’re on the right track.
For a practical example of the problems with a “big tent,” let’s look at the whole “tea party” experience. For simplicity, we’ll assume that the organizers got a million people for their 9/12 Washington demonstration.
It’s an interesting word, demonstration. To demonstrate a gun, for instance, you can shoot a cantaloupe. The demonstration says: this cantaloupe could be your head. A demonstration in the political sense of the word says: these people are standing peacefully and holding signs, but they could be screaming like fiends, sacking offices, and giving GS-15s the Princesse de Lamballe treatment. In other words, every demonstration is an incipient mob. To demonstrate is to overawe and intimidate with the threat of potential violence.
Democracy itself encodes the threat of mob violence in the voting process. The State, as always, belongs to the strongest. Democracy models the process of mob violence, guesses who will win by counting heads, awards the state to the probable winner and skips the actual rioting.
When mob violence is no longer a possibility, the threat loses its force, and democratic politicians can be counted on to lose their power to some other structure. Here we see the first fallacy of the “tea parties,” for of course the original Tea Party was exactly that: mob violence. Whereas the suburban white people who showed up on 9/12, contra your daily dose of brown-baiting, could barely lynch a fly. Individual madmen may be among them and probably are, but they are no material for a mob.
Leftist demonstrations, on the other hand, always carry their original implicit threat of mass extralegal action. Dr. King himself, or rather his speechwriters, were masters of this. The line is always: we are demonstrating peacefully, to show you how many people will be in the riot if we don’t get what we want. This threat today is by no means what it was in 1968, but nor is it entirely impotent.
Thus, 9/12 fails as a demonstration of direct power. A million bipeds, even unarmed (and who says they have to be unarmed?) are one of the most dangerous things in the history of the universe. What are the million people of 9/12? A million votes. Which, frankly, is not a lot.
That said, this demonstration is doing pretty well for what it is, because—unlike most similar manifestations—it actually has a specific, unanimous demand: no “healthcare reform.” Of course, “healthcare reform” is a broad and slippery thing, but the “no” is also pretty broad. This can most certainly be seen as a crude party line, of sorts.
Note, however, that this is a defensive demand. The tea partiers can organize to resist some action which was put on the table by their better-organized opponents. But they are not, actually, an organization. Therefore, this million people is not actually a weapon that can be wielded in any strategic or coherent way. They are not a mob, and not an army.
The real Washington is actually very sensitive to coalitions that are relatively small by electoral standards. Thus, for instance, the influence of exiled Cubans on USG’s Cuba policy. The gusanos cannot by any means defeat Foggy Bottom, but they can dictate its policy on this one matter—within certain limits, of course—and have done so for almost half a century. It is especially sensitive to coalitions that have no organized opposition.
So: imagine the same million people demonstrating, but with a coherent offensive demand. Let’s say they demanded, say, an end to race preferences in university admissions. The issue is not on the agenda. They organize, and choose to place it there. Is there any doubt that they would win?
It is probably the case that nine out of ten tea partiers hold this exact opinion—but no one will ever know. After all, they can scribble anything they want on their signs. They are a rabble, not a party. They may win on their one issue, for a time. On the scale of history, they will lose. What they would have to do to actually win is to multiply their numbers by about 10 or 20, and broaden their demand from blocking a minor policy change to creating an actual regime change. I.e., to not keep losing, they have to win the whole game in one step. Of course there is no possibility of this in the real world today.
The tea party movement, of course, has very different objectives than TSI. Still, both seek political change through collective action. Politics is one art. The advantage of cohesion over size is no secret to its practitioners. Of course, one would rather be both cohesive and large; but if you are small and cohesive, you still have a chance of becoming large and cohesive. Whereas once you lose cohesion, it is almost impossible to regain.
So why is the big tent so much more attractive? Simply, the seductive powers of the Ring. Democracy is instinctive in the human race (which of course does not make it good). Humans are built to measure their authority by their number of followers.
You yourself have invented an epithet that fits the “big tent” approach: folk activism. The desire to create the largest possible coalition, by deemphasizing differences rather than resolving them, is classic folk activism. It is instinctive politics, rather than calculated politics.
Of course, there is a second reason, which is that the Modern Structure is violently allergic to anything that looks like organized opposition—such as the above. (Interestingly, it shares this approach with the Chinese Communist Party. In modern China, you can think whatever you want, and say whatever you want. You just can’t organize. Our own permanent government, while infinitely more subtle about it, is no less permanent.)
If you learn from Hitler, you will of course be made to look like Hitler, because you will look like Hitler. Times readers will be led, with little hints, to the obvious conclusion: seasteading is a plot to drown the Jews. What do seasteaders have in common? They’re all white men. Why do they want to live at sea? Because Negroes can’t swim. Etc., etc., etc.
One phenomenon that UR can be relied on to object to, everywhere and at every time, is presentism—the belief that the present time is somehow unique, and exempt from the patterns of history. The present time does not stand outside history. It is part of history. Professor Romer is not something special and different from Lord Cromer.
The antihistorical feature of the seasteading movement to which I object most strongly is its belief that political objectives can be achieved without political conflict. In other words, that it is possible to obtain practical independence, creating one or more new sovereigns, without fighting. That most ways of fighting (political or military) will not work is hardly lost on me, but this does not mean that any ways of not-fighting will work.
Yet there is no conclusion more congenial to the well-indoctrinated mind of 2009, which believes that conflict solves nothing. Again, this view requires a complete ignorance of history—most easily produced, in the intelligent, by an open contempt for it. History records no instance of sovereignty being created, captured, or sustained without a fight. History records novelties, of course, but the burden of proof rests quite solidly on their proponents. I would rather dispel this ignorance than take advantage of it, which is why you don’t see me wearing anyone’s Ring.
My view is that the first order of business, for this fight, is intellectual sovereignty. It is clearly possible to create intellectual sovereignty without temporal sovereignty—to secede in mind, not body. First, this carries its own rewards; second, it makes your political efforts much easier. Not that they will ever be easy. But the task of creating or capturing temporal sovereignty, which is impossible anyway, becomes doubly impossible if you have no idea what you’re going to do with that sovereignty. Or if you do have an idea, but your so-called supporters are not privy to it.