The Dire Problem and the Virtual Option
To think about government in the democratic tense is to think (and talk—and write) in terms of policies. Most people do not know any other way. The democratic thinker, prudent or foolish, cretin or physicist, thinks: if I were king, what would I do about X or Y or Z? Health care or Afghanistan or banking? The precondition is always omitted, and always implied.
Since not only is the thinker not king, not only are there are no more kings in the world, but the thinker believes there never will and never should be any, any such thought is so impotent as to insult sobriety. One might as well ask: if I were God, what would I do about mosquitoes?
Normally, nothing but a tab of Owsley’s plus a hefty Bolivian chaser could bring a conceit so vain and fantastic to the sustained attention of the neurologically uncompromised brain. Dear reader, if you doubt, I commend you to Steve Randy Waldman’s brush with power. It is said that Tim Geithner stopped by. The wise man is the man who knows the brush for what it is—not taking it for actual contact. Yet the thinker, if not perhaps so wise as Steve Randy Waldman, is a normal man. He has not taken any heavy drugs. He has not sustained any head injuries. Or so he assumes…
Not only is our philosopher restricted to voting Democrat or Republican, even Democrats and Republicans are quite restricted in the range of legitimate policies they may in practice pursue. Thus the political mind is doubly vacant—tohu vabohu. No wonder today’s American, whose great-great-grandfathers paraded by torch, formed secret societies, cast eagled generals in bronze, could give a crap. He is politically apathetic, because he is subconsciously wise. Reality impinges upon his motivation at a direct level.
This generalization, of course, applies only to the audience. I.e.: punters, marks or turkeys. The Washington of 2009 is first and foremost a show—and no small production. The gaffer does not fall in love with the leading lady or weep at the fate of the tragic hero. The entire cast and crew believe they are making a great movie, a movie that matters, a movie that is real. They care. But they care differently. The experience of the audience is not the experience of the production.
When people who are actually influential in formulating the policies which the Beltway makes, i.e., have actual power as opposed to Walter Mitty power, think, what they do is to invent facts. Or at least collect them. The result, in any case, is in every case some form of science. That this result is custom-made to imply, or even better assume, policy X or Y or Z, and made so well a monkey too blind to find a banana in its hand could see it, is seldom remarked upon by the participants.
Here at UR, we define political perspective as historical narrative. Your political position is a function of your interpretation of the past, up to and including now. If you read history the Republican way, you are a Republican. If you read history the Democratic way, you are a Democrat. If you read history the Jacobite way, you are a Jacobite. The facts may vary, slightly, but facts are the least of history’s art.
The Jacobite history of 2009, unlike the other two, is not found at your local library. One would need to be a full-beer Jacobite, finely preserved and not in any way tin-plated, to write it. Or at least, be able to fake it. A tough ho to row, but here at UR we persevere. While Jacobite may not quite be an exact description—I am actually quite weak on the 17th and 18th centuries—this blog is certainly very far to the right. Today, perhaps we’ll see how far.
For another post I’m working on, I felt compelled to name historical figures who could serve as endpoints on a spectrum of absolute left and right. I came up with Prince Kropotkin and Cato the Younger. Some people talk about Attila the Hun. But frankly, Attila was a leftist. Neighbor say he to the right of Marcus Porcius Cato, that neighbor mean business.
For me, the left-right spectrum is defined by the two forms of political power: influence and command, persuasion and compulsion. If A is exercising power over B, A’s decisions determine B’s actions. This is either because A has persuaded B to do what A wants, or because A has compelled B to do it. Either way, A is the big boss in charge. His testicles swell.
An organization is perfectly Left if it operates entirely on the principle of persuasion—that is, cooperation by consensus, without any hierarchy, interest or position. Of course, no nontrivial organization can operate entirely on this basis, so nontrivial organization can be perfectly leftist—let alone a sovereign state, which must defend itself by definition. Officerless armies have also been tried once or twice, generally without great success.
An organization is perfectly Right if it operates entirely on the principle of compulsion, without ambiguity, informality or conflicts of interest. My ideal state—the joint-stock republic, controlled equitably by its beneficiary shareholders, and secured by end-to-end cryptographic command—is perfectly Right, because its decision structure is entirely compulsory.
Unlike any mere paper standard, the neocameralist JSR is self-enforcing and physically secure. No one need be persuaded to follow its rules, ever. The design is internally stable—it stands up of its own accord, as any sovereign decision structure should. Unlike classical republican forms, it has no tendency to decay into democracy, and it lacks any inherent internal conflicts of interest. It may not last forever, but it is designed to last forever.
(So, yes: I to the right of Cato. Yo bitches can fear me. I like the Ass Meat Research Group.)
Notice, for instance, that under a purely compulsory sovereign, there is no need for propaganda. The joint-stock republic has no reason to concern itself with the political opinions of its residents—because no coalition of its subjects has the practical power to threaten its security. Thus it may treat them as what they are: its customers. Hopefully a somewhat warmer bond, making the political question moot. How hard is it, really, to keep the shoppers from looting the Wal-Mart?
This sudden evaporation of all zombie memes and public lies, of entire doctrines heretofore appearing remarkably pink-cheeked but animated only by the arteries of power, is just one of the many delightful surprises that the return of absolute sovereignty, however long it takes, will spring upon the world. What’s funny is that the ordinary educated American, a devoted reader of the New York Times, considers political and politicized some of his most foul terms of abuse. Once the democracy show is finally canceled, he will see just how right he was.
Such a blessed miracle can only come to pass, however, if its evangelists are as clear about its problems as its advantages. If not clearer.
Thus, I want to break the rule I started with, and talk policy. There is one problem facing humanity that must be solved by any design for a USG 5—not just mine. A good way to demonstrate the superiority of my design is to show how it states and addresses this problem. If the problem engages you, translate it into your world and solve it there.
The Dire Problem is so dire that I cannot just tell you what it is. Dear reader, I fear your head still remains partially attached to the real world. In the real world, the Dire Problem cannot be solved; thus, it cannot be contemplated. Only in my fantasy world can it be solved. Therefore, not to solve it but to contemplate it, we must descend deeper into the fantasy. Details!
Whatever title he assumes, the CEO of a joint-stock republic holds one position, famous across history, found in every country: that is king. Our king should probably have prior experience as a mere corporate CEO, which is why I take the statistical liberty of assuming his testicles.
A king is a king because his job is the job of kingship. The selection process is immaterial. A king may inherit the job, he may be elected, he may be selected. Moreover, while any true king is absolute in authority, no king can be irresponsible—that would make him dictator, not king.
Every king is responsible to some persistent, i.e., eternal, institution. Ideally, that institution has the power to switch kings, and no other direct authority. A hereditary king is responsible to the royal family. An elected king is responsible to those who elected him. Etc.
The standard American corporate architecture, in which the CEO is responsible to a board of directors, elected by the shareholders, works reasonably well—at least in theory. However, if elections seem repugnant or dangerous due to their unfortunate democratic associations, there is an aristocratic solution which avoids elections and should produce a body of equal or greater responsibility.
Simply appoint the 50 or 60 largest shareholders as a senate. Senators vote by weight of shares. The size of any such assembly should be under the Dunbar number. Shareholders whose holding is under this bar may (or may not) select any senator as their proxy, adding their weight to his. Thus, all shareholders are represented equally in a body of manageable size. The senate can even be reduced to board size, for minimum overhead.
The senatorial design is superior to the representative design, because it places no professional intermediaries between the owners and the management. Rather, the latter are directly responsible to the former. While a layer of delegation can work quite well, all sorts of cruft can also creep into it.
However the responsibility structure is designed, it is absolutely essential that no significant conflicts of interest exist within it. Shareholders, for instance, share the interests of their property by definition. A royal family is a family business. Not one king in European history can be found who ruined his own country to enrich himself, like an African dictator.
Large shareholders will often have conflicts of interest with the sovereigns they own, due to the sheer financial size and variety of business interests they may hold. There is no solution to this problem but a careful initial distribution of the shares, and a command structure that allows the Senate to block the votes of shares whose holders are conflicted. Ideally, the shares are widely enough spread that these conflicts disappear in the noise. Position limits are an excellent idea. Ideally, large positions become concentrated among ultra-wealthy families, whose members can serve as a durable senatorial aristocracy.
Other well-structured sovereign corporations are often good shareholders, especially among a family of states created through the same process. For example, an easy way to break up USG is to convert it to a keiretsu of cross-held sovereign states, whose shares of each state are initially held by the other 49. This ensures that responsible management, if initially selected, will remain quite responsible. These shares can then be distributed carefully and broadly across a global financial market, shifting responsibility to a broad cross-section of human prudence.
This corporate banality is sound. But it is not glorious. If the job of the sovereign CEO is the position of king, why not assume that position’s ancient and honorable styles and ornaments? We could start with the name, and the majuscule: King. These alone may seem ridiculous at first, but the reality of power will infuse them—as it always has. Similarly, if our board of directors is a senate, let it be a Senate! The term, after all, is far older than Washington.
Armed with these dignities, we must pick a state. I pick my own: California. The question of policy is thus: as King of Royal California, absolute in authority but responsible to a Senate of major shareholders, what would I do about X or Y or Z? Note that by making the precondition of policy more fantastic, we have also made it more concrete.
What will the return of royal government mean for California? A recent network TV series, Kings, made a stab at imagining a modern monarchy. Mrs. Moldbug and I rented the pilot. It was not good. I constantly felt the desire to enter the screen, seize the camera, and redirect it from the royal family to the royal administration. Alas.
After so many years of grim, mindless democracy, the return of true kingship can mean only one thing for Anglo-American civilization, in California or anywhere else: a glorious rebirth. It is a permanent occasion for public glory. Its date will be celebrated for the next century. Life before the Restoration will seem inconceivably ugly, boring, weird and dangerous, like life under Communism. (And the fall of Communism will seem the first step in the fall of democracy.)
In the first few months of royal administration, both the King’s subjects and his real estate learn what it feels like to be treated as what they are—assets. These assets, like German machine tools operated without lubricant in Magnitogorsk, are in an extremely deteriorated condition. This neglect of capital is of course visible in the massive financial delinquency of the democratic era.
After six months of the King’s peace, it is safe for any Californian to walk anywhere in any Californian city, at any time of day or night. Every human in the state is legal and identified. The trade balance is neutralized, creating new industries sufficient to employ all Californians. All post-1950 architecture is classified for demolition and replacement. Young Californians in all grades are tackling their new classical curriculum. And so on. Life has become better, comrades! Life has become more joyful.
This is the frame of mind in which Royal California sets out to solve the Dire Problem. Next to this problem, all the king’s other problems are straightforward and unworthy of notice. They were only phantoms of democracy. Government, in reality, is not hard at all. All manner of seemingly intractable woes will dissolve before the King’s golden and tireless energy. But the Dire Problem is different.
The Dire Problem is that, while all the land in California is of positive value (since, for all its faults, the environmental stewardship of the late USG 4 was excellent), the same cannot be said for its population. No king would allow his population quality to sink to such a state; no king has reigned in California for almost two centuries.
Many Californians—most Californians—are assets. That is: productive citizens, or children who will grow up and become productive citizens. Their place is the left side of the balance sheet. Their presence in California increases California’s productive power, and thus its value as a financial asset.
As the King begins the transition from democracy, however, he sees at once that many Californians—certainly millions—are financial liabilities. These are unproductive citizens. Their place on the balance sheet is on the right. To put it crudely, a ten-cent bullet in the nape of each neck would send California’s market capitalization soaring—often by a cool million per neck.
And we are just getting started. The ex-subject can then be dissected for his organs. Do you know what organs are worth? This is profit!
If we claim to derive the responsibility of government from mere financial prudence, we must explain why the business strategy of culling unwanted subjects for their organs is not viable. Most would not find this profitable strategy consistent with responsibility. Yet, since a sovereign is sovereign, no higher sovereign can exist to outlaw or preclude it. The design must solve this problem on its own.
The simplest, broadest, and most essential prevention against this degenerate result is the observation that the royal government is a government of law, and a government of law does not commit mass murder. For instance, no such government could take office without promising to preserve and defend its new subjects, certainly precluding any such genocide.
A sovereign that breaks its promises, especially in such a ghoulish way, is a sovereign that its subjects cannot trust. This in turn is a much less valuable sovereign. Who wants to stay in the Hotel California? The whole idea of the King’s peace is that you can take a shower without worrying about Norman Bates. Property values just went through the floor, and what is a country but its property?
More specifically, these human liabilities are indeed just that—liabilities. The royal government cannot possibly take office without assuming the financial liability to keep these unfortunates alive and in a condition of human dignity. This will appear on the right side of Royal California’s balance sheet, just like its bond coupons. Moreover, the right to be kept alive, etc., at California’s expense, appears on the left side of a human liability’s balance sheet. Just like his IRA.
Thus, despite its inherently mercenary form as a reactionary corporate monarchy, an omnipotent uber-state whose soul is a little dried-up pea, Royal California will not actually be executing hapless peasants for their organs. This is nice to know.
But do we really know it? The explanation that Royal California will not harvest the poor for their organs, because it will have promised not to harvest the poor for their organs, and its most valuable asset is its reputation, while certainly accurate, is too narrow for me. Having established this legalistic defense, let us reinforce it with further realities.
More broadly, Royal California will in all cases treat her subjects as human beings. The maintenance of equity, as well as law, is crucial to her reputation. Thus, the Genickschuss is out, with or without the organ harvesting.
Carlylean to its core, the ideology of Royal California is that the King is God’s proxy on earth; whatever God would have him do, that is justice; the King, having done his best to divine God’s will, shall see it done. Or else he is no king, but a piece of cardboard, a “Canadian lumber-log.” Clearly, God is not in favor of harvesting the poor for their organs. You’re probably thinking of Huitzilopochtli. So this is another safeguard.
This still does not satisfy me, however. The Dire Problem is a Dire Problem. It is not to be dismissed so lightly. Let us turn, and face it more broadly. Again, it faces not only Royal California, but every California.
Stated most boldly, the Dire Problem is that there is a line of productive competence beneath which a human being is a liability, not an asset, to the society including him. This calculation is made in terms of the marginal human—does California gain or lose by adding one person just like this person? For millions, the answer is surely the latter.
Worse, with the steady advance of technology, this line rises. That is: the demand for low-skilled human labor shrinks. Abstract economics provides no guarantee whatsoever that the marginal able-bodied man with an IQ of 80 can feed himself by his own labors. If you doubt this line, simply lower it until you doubt it no more. At least logically, there is a biological continuum between humans and chimpanzees, and the latter are surely liabilities.
Why does this matter? It matters because either (a) a man can feed himself, or (b) he dies horribly of starvation, or (c) someone else feeds him. If (a), he is an asset. If (c), he is a liability—to someone. If (b), he makes a horrible mess and fuss while dying, and is thus in that sense a liability. Moreover, the presence of the poor becomes extremely unpleasant well before the starvation point.
It is useless to say that there are no human liabilities. Royal California was born to do God’s work in California. If your God is into fibbing or averting his eyes, he is some other deity. Our fellow sees only the truth, and speaks it. Come on, man! Let the glory and horror of the world unfold itself before your eyes. There are human assets, and human liabilities. Calling the latter the former is a terrible error, a blasphemy. God can wish a thing and make it so, but not you.
Think of the glories of emptiness and solitude. You, yourself, have gone into the wild to find them. Everyone reads Thoreau in high school. Not everyone reads Robinson Jeffers, but they probably should. Any subscriber to Outside magazine can relate trivially to Jeffers’ Inhumanism. Are not all humans, of themselves, born revolting, filthy apes—on the right side of the ledger? Must not they struggle to even break even, and contribute to civilization?
Let those of us born with golden brains, therefore—the tiny top sliver that Ralph Adams Cram called human, as opposed to anthropoid—inherit the earth, through the talent that was born in our hands and minds. As for the anthropoids? Their hearts will always beat in our chests. Their brains can be frozen, and perhaps scanned someday when we have the technology.
Imagine the garden that a population of ten or twenty million—all the most human of humanity—could make of the earth. Would they miss the six billion? Not a chance. Would the planet seem empty and boring without the favelas of Rio, the projects of Baltimore, the huge human warrens of Lagos? Not a chance. Nor, if your taste runs to Gaia, would the Earth. And if the few can figure out how to preserve the organs of the many, this new nobility can live for millennia!
Anyway. I am not actually making this Swiftian proposal. On the contrary! As I’ve said, I oppose it. Nonetheless, it is important to present it, because the attraction is real. At least to some of us. Besides, what else are you going to do with the huge human warrens of Lagos? Lagos is not in California, at least not yet. But the latter is hardly without its pits.
We now face the Dire Problem squarely. The King has two constraints.
First, his solution must be consistent with human dignity. For his model of dignity in charity, he chooses the system of Maimonides. (Note that USG 4’s system of taxpayer charity, the “welfare state,” is all the way down at a Maimonides 8, since donors are unwilling. As for the effects, the sage is entirely validated.)
Second, once the first constraint is solved, the solution’s effect on free citizens must be as close as possible to the effect of our organ-harvesting proposal. In other words, any solution to the Dire Problem can be defined as a humane alternative to genocide.
Such a humane alternative will not cost ten cents a head. It will not yield valuable organs. It will produce a society consisting entirely of productive citizens and their dependents, which takes Robert Putnam’s research to its opposite endpoint. Those who have experienced no such society are mistaken to scoff at it; had they ever tasted any such community, they would never give it up. The King who brings it will silence catcalls and make believers.
Let’s approach this problem of human dependency in more detail. What does the King do with his mindless, menacing, misbegotten masses?
First, the King’s law is that either a human being is a free, taxpaying yeoman, or a ward. A ward is any dependent—anyone not responsible to provide for his or her support. The general principle of wardship is that every ward must have a patron, who is responsible for supporting the ward, authorized to direct and discipline the ward, and liable for the ward’s offenses. This is not my idea—it is straight out of Roman law.
The trivial and common example of the patron-ward relationship is the relationship between parents and children, or children and their superannuated parents. Familial dependents are simply none of the King’s business; his law upholds, rather than challenging, these structures.
We turn, therefore, to wards of the State. These come in three classes: (a) criminal, (b) indigent, and (c) mentally incompetent. (a) and (c) are always with us; the heart of the Dire Problem is (b), because there is no realistic constraint on the size of (b). Indeed, as we approach the Singularity, (b) tends to include everyone—golden brains or not. That is, as machine intelligence increases, economic demand for human intelligence at every level goes to zero. Oops!
As we’ll see, the solution for (b) may help us with both (c) and (a). (c) is immemorial—I have little to say on the question. As for (a), crime does not much trouble the King—not with his aggressive use of modern forensic and security technologies.
Widespread crime is an epiphenomenon of democracy. In Royal California, you are much more likely to be attacked by a wild animal than a feral human, and there are none of either in the cities. Dangerous bipeds are simply not in circulation. So long as your children are old enough to understand traffic safety, they can wander up and down Market Street all night if you care to let them.
The standard of public safety is independent of the threat. Whether your rights are violated by an agent of the King or an independent criminal, you experience the same violation. The democratic failure to eradicate crime is thus best defined as a form of state terror, with the same unlovely motivations always found in a government which torments its subjects. (Crime in Britain, for instance, increased by two orders of magnitude in the last century, as that country terminated its ancient aristocracy and entered its present democratic tailspin.)
The Victorian ability to nearly eradicate serious crime, even with Victorian forensic technology, is a testament to that age’s genius for the rule of men. Most of today’s criminals are not psychopaths, biologically defective goods; they are, or at least conceive of themselves, as free warriors against civilized society. A government which can not only detain these warriors, but conquer and defeat them, breaking their martial spirit, can resocialize them.
This was once routinely done in American prisons, or any prison for that matter. For example, in the French Catholic novelist Paul Bourget’s 1893 tour d’Amérique, Outre-mer, he visits The Tombs in New York:
We had not been ten minutes in it when we began to see convicts laboring in some earthworks But for their uniforms of white, with broad dark stripes, we might have taken them for workingmen at their ordinary task. Absorption in work is so essential a characteristic of American life that these convicts seemed not different from free workmen. Their countenances were not more sad than those of engineers on their locomotives or smelters in their foundry. […] The workshops were, therefore, filled with workmen who do excellent work at a low cost. In pavilions surrounding the central building, there was a forge and a cabinet shop, a shoe factory and a locksmithy, and so on through the whole range of trades. We saw rows of tailors, painters, bookbinders, clockmakers, peacefully at work.
How were criminals reduced to these peaceful trades? They were broken—forced to work, or be beaten and starve. They were ruled. The King is not afraid to rule.
We move on to the genuinely hard problem—(b). Here we are dealing with human beings who have done nothing wrong, and have therefore nothing to be punished for. They simply happen to lack the ability to provide for themselves on the free market.
First, the King has no compunction whatsoever in creating economic distortions that produce employment for low-skilled humans. A good example of such a distortion in the modern world are laws prohibiting self-service gas stations, as in New Jersey or Oregon. These distortions have gotten a bad name among today’s thinkers, because makework is typically the symptom of some corrupt political combination. As the King’s will, it will have a different flavor.
As both a good Carlylean and a good Misesian, the King condemns economism—the theory that any economic indicator can measure human happiness. His goal is a fulfilled and dignified society, not maximum production of widgets. Is it better that teenagers get work experience during the summer, or that gas costs five cents a gallon less? The question is not a function of any mathematical formula. It is a question of judgment and taste. All that free-market economics will tell you is that, if you prohibit self service, there will be more jobs for gas-station attendants, and gas will cost more. It cannot tell you whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.
There may be no jobs for men with an IQ of 80 in Royal California—at least, not in a Royal California whose roads are paved by asphalt rollers. But suppose its roads are paved in brick? A man with an IQ of 80 can lay brick, do it well, and obtain dignity from the task. Nothing whatsoever prevents the King from distorting markets to create demand for the supply he has.
The anthropoid remains a liability. The full-service gas tax is a tax. The man with the 130 IQ will not obtain his neighbor’s liver, and will still have to support him. But, the dependency being sufficiently indirect, he supports a free and dignified man—a yeoman, in fact, if a dull one. Work is not so ennobling that it can convert a low-browed cretin into the Marquis de Lafayette, but it can convert him into a man decent enough to walk the King’s streets.
Or not. The low-browed man of 70 (and remember—for every 130, there is a 70) may still require special supervision. Besides a job, he needs a patron. Productivity he has, but direction and discipline he still requires. His patron may be a charity, or a profitable corporation, or even—gasp—an individual.
In the last case, of course, we have reinvented slavery. Gasp! Since the bond of natural familial kindness is not present in the case of an unrelated ward, the King keeps a close watch on this relationship to protect human dignity. Nonetheless, his wards are farmed out—it is always better to be a private ward than the ward of the State. Bureaucratic slavery is slavery at its worst. Adult foster care, as perhaps we will call it, is a far more human and dignified relationship.
The combination of calculated market distortion and private patronage, therefore, is the King’s primary approach to the Dire Problem. By carefully chosen technical restrictions and the like, he can sculpt a labor demand which roughly approximates the actual labor supply. By finding patrons for those not responsible enough to be responsible for themselves, he ensures that these individuals have direction as well as productive value.
Financially, this is quite inferior to sculpting a labor demand through organ harvesting. But if organ harvesting is out of the question, technology restriction is the first and best solution for the problem of mass indigence. It is certainly far superior to the Virtual Option, both financially and humanely.
The Virtual Option! For the first time, whispers of this scheme pass our lips. What is it?
To enter the frame of mind that allows us to conceive the Virtual Option, let us leave California, and return to the vast slums of Lagos, or any other Third World city. Anyone who saw District 9 will be familiar with the concept. That was not a set. Now, imagine yourself in a helicopter, day after day, touring these fermenting pits of rancid humanity, around the world—from Lagos to Rio, from Rio to Manila, from Manila to Soweto. Foul bile rises in your gorge. What king could employ these masses? What highways will they brick? What masters would have them, even as slaves? The horror, the horror…
No! God will not allow these foul armies to fester as ulcers on the earth. As is plain by smell, from birth he cursed these cities and their shambling bipeds. God’s California was not made for such creatures. It is true that there are no favelas in California—now. There are also quite a few people in California who believe that no person is illegal. And more every day. Someday, in the lives of those now living, the borders will open. Lagos will come to California. And then we’ll really need a King. Harvest the organs! But no, God will not let us do that either. Bummer.
The King must scrape these orcs from the earth. Knowing God’s will, he knows that God wishes them vanished, dissipated, vaporized, gone. Their former middens, scoured and made state parks, clean and fresh with trees and grass. Their disappearance, celebrated by state holiday. On the other hand, he insists that they retain human dignity—preferably, indeed, augment it. How do you execute people while maintaining their dignity? I’m afraid you don’t.
Thus the Virtual Option—our humane alternative to genocide. Under the Virtual Option, the King does not round up the slum dwellers and execute them with captive-bolt pistols. The King condemns the slum, clears it, and requires all its former residents to obtain civilized housing. If a human being cannot support himself in a civilized manner in the King’s economy, which has been carefully tweaked to match labor demand to labor supply, the King does not provide a “safety net” in the 20th-century style, in which he may lounge, sag, bob and fester forever. No—then, it is time for the Virtual Option.
If you accept the Virtual Option—always a voluntary decision, even if you have no other viable options—California will house, feed and care for you indefinitely. It will also provide you with a rich, fulfilling life offering every opportunity to obtain dignity, respect and even social status. However, this life will be a virtual life. In your real life, your freedom will be extremely restricted: to the point of imprisonment. You may even be sealed in a pod.
The result is that the ward (a) disappears from society, and (b) retains or (hopefully) increases his level of dignity and fulfillment. He remains a financial liability, because it is still necessary to prepare his meals and maintain his pod. But other residents of California no longer feel menaced by his presence. For he is no longer present among them.
To make the Virtual Option work, of course, a virtual life must provide real human dignity. This technology is not at present available, or anywhere close. Let us inquire into the matter.
First, consider two existing virtual-world games: Second Life and World of Warcrack. Excuse me—Warcraft. I have barely touched a computer game in the last 10 years, and even when I was in college, which was a dreadfully long time ago, I preferred single-player games. However, even I am aware that Second Life is boring and full of losers and perverts, whereas WoW is furiously addictive even to many people with an actual first life.
Why? Because the designers of Second Life, being good San Francisco progressives, forgot something very important in their virtual world. They forgot that life needs purpose. In Second Life, your character just wanders around chatting, displaying sexual decorations and laughing stupidly at weird funny stuff. Not coincidentally, this is more or less the San Francisco 20-something bohemian idea of the good life.
In WoW, you are in a Dungeons & Dragons universe. You go on quests, get points, kill monsters and/or each other. Result: Linden makes layoffs, Blizzard makes bank. Blizzard’s virtual world provides its characters with a built-in system of meaning, however crude. Linden’s assumes that mere socialization is sufficient to satisfy the human drive for purpose.
All the virtual-world games in existence today are intended as just that: games. Or rather, toys. Many people with real lives invest a considerable amount of time in Warcrack, but most are embarrassed by it. A toy of this sort is simply not designed to absorb the entire life of a human being, granting it meaning and dignity even inside a sealed pod. Thus, it cannot even come close to making the Virtual Option a genuine option.
The technology, however, advances. Here at UR, we skate to where the puck will be—our dreams are dreamed for the future, not the present. Can we imagine a virtual world more compelling than reality? Easily. Every novelist does.
In the real world, meaning and purpose are hard to find. In the virtual world, they are trivial to invent. Go slay an dragon, or illuminate a manuscript, or accumulate a golden hoard. The dragon is a data structure, the manuscript could be illuminated in PDF, the golden hoard is a mere integer. All this meaning is makework—invention. Its real meaning: nil. So what? It feels real, and this is sufficient for dignity.
The pod, of course, will need an all-around sensory upgrade. Immersive audio and video are requirements. Haptic interfaces are essential for high-dexterity work with tools, instruments and weapons. Mechanical sexual stimulation is a no-brainer. And why not drugs? The virtualized ward is hardly about to go out and drive while intoxicated. The Dionysian experience, too, is a part of human dignity.
But life is not just about pleasure. It is about hard work and struggle and pain. A pair of pedals hooked up to a generator provides hard work—if your virtual job is pulling a rickshaw, you have to pull that rickshaw; if you are running from a dragon, you need to run. Harmless but intense artificial pain is easily produced. And most daring, is true death possible in virtual reality? For those with the need to risk their lives—bravery, too, is essentially human—a small needle will relieve them of the burden if they gamble and fail.
The mere existence of a population locked in to the virtual world, whether by direct compulsion or practical necessity, makes the game into reality. Reality is anything you can’t leave. The feeling of intensity, in such a game, will be beyond anything World of Warcraft can imagine. Indeed, the free yeoman may well pay liberally to vacation in this world, a Middle-Earth with real orcs.
And the real world, outside it, is unencumbered by the semi-human detritus of the insane democratic experiment with massive dysgenic reproduction. Instead, the lush and varied Monegasque landscape of Royal California, populated entirely by civilized and productive human beings, will be punctuated by occasional strange towers: pod racks. Even these can be in the desert, where no one but the lizards will have to look at them.
This is the Virtual Option: the translation of the underclass to cyberspace. All around the world, anywhere there is a slum with an XBox in it, the Virtual Option is taking shape. King or no King, soon it will be real. Men will say: now, we can see the Dire Problem, and our hearts remain at rest. For we have seen the worst-case scenario, and we are prepared to apply it. Pod racks! The ultimate reactionary answer to the entire social question.
Could we all end up in a videogame? Remember, as the power of the machines increases, the demand for human labor at every intellectual level decreases. If the last two brains on earth are mine and Terence Tao’s, I know who’s getting virtualized first. Of course, at this point we would be ceding mastery to some evil machine intelligence that wanted to rule the planet and dispatch its last human overseers. Finally, we have descended too far into fantasy—not that the problem is uninteresting, just underspecified.
But my conscience feels clear in proposing this solution, because I feel it would be entirely possible to build a virtual reality in which a person such as myself would maintain human dignity. After all, there’s a reason I stopped playing videogames: I find them absorbing. Just about everyone does, crude and primitive as the games of 2009 (or, heck, 1989) are. And the smaller the mind, the more easily absorbed.
So the techno-dictators of the 21st century will have no difficulty whatsoever in capturing and absorbing the mindless mass. As usual, we see only one obstacle between us and this bright future: democracy. This is the true Dire Problem—not bad demographics alone, but the combination of bad demographics and bad politics. Fix the latter, and everything is possible.