Carl Schmitt said that the sovereign is he who decides the exception. While this is true, Carl Schmitt lived in saner times.
In the ’30s and ’40s, the sovereign had a pretty simple way of deciding the exception. He made his decision and loaded it into his gun. Propaganda existed, true, but it was remarkably crude. Really the main thing was the gun. Sensible, traditional, effective.
Nobody makes decisions anymore. At least not personal decisions. At least not in the public sector. And guns are almost obsolete. You don’t need a gun to herd sheep—much less swine. All you need is a story. (And slop for the swine.)
Who is the sovereign? Not a who but a what. The sovereign is the story. Of course, there is no story without a storyteller. There are a lot of storytellers. Professionals, even. They make a good living and they’re all quite replaceable. (I actually have great sympathy for the professional. In a bureaucratic oligarchy like ours, the professional both rules and is ruled. At the top, there is no one on top of him. Yet he cannot change his mind. He would simply be replaced. There are always younger, more eager professionals. Sovereignty is conserved; it is always humans who rule; and yet, it seems that no one rules. Who gets to put his hand on the wheel? He can stand there, and look like a captain. Chicks dig it. And yes, sir, it sure does pay.)
When the sovereign is the story, I claim, the sovereign is he who selects the null hypothesis. What is a null hypothesis? Have you ever seen the phrase “no evidence that”? For instance, there is no evidence that voter fraud has a significant impact on American elections.
Like it or not, established religion is an essential attribute of sovereignty. Cuius regio, eius religio. Unless you’re a crazy person, you believe what the sovereign, personal or institutional, orders you to believe. Obviously there is a conflict here, or at least a potential conflict. Because even a normal, non-crazy person will experience difficulty in disbelieving his own eyes. Which is fine. Sovereigns, though asymptotically infallible, err. They change their mind, or at least have to be thought capable of it. You can change your mind too. Maybe you’re just the first. However, the null hypothesis is what the sovereign orders you to believe, at least until evidence (which should promptly be brought to your master’s attention) convinces you otherwise. Since the sovereign also sets the bar for how much evidence it takes to convince you otherwise, he can order you to believe in pretty much anything short of outright arithmetic violations. All he has to do is set the null hypothesis to his desired outcome, then set the burden of proof impossibly high.
Is it possible to escape from the null-hypothesis trap? Reader, it is. The solution was discovered 250 years ago by a worthless country neighbor name of Thomas Bayes, who pointed out that when evaluating evidence logically, you start not with a null hypothesis but with a prior conviction, which you update on the basis of its consistency with the new evidence. Unfortunately, the Rev. Bayes (also a Jesus freak) never did anything else of note, and society has never even come close to applying his insight. (The Internets have created a very successful cult of Bayesians or supposed Bayesians, whose methods as applied to practical problems of propaganda wrestling remind me most of the claim that tai chi is actually a martial art. In a sense, it is. I’m not sure it’s really what you want in this kind of a situation, however.)
For instance, our courts—the form of official reasoning we know best—operate on a decidedly pre-Bayesian paradigm. The defendant is innocent (null hypothesis) until proven (inappropriate use of deductive terminology in inductive context) guilty. A Bayesian court would reason as follows: the defendant is a known ghetto gangbanger (prior conviction) accused of slinging rock (evidence). His attorney asserts that this “rock,” which officers somehow mislaid without entering into evidence, was actually Finish brand dishwasher detergent. However, since defendant has six priors for aggravated narcotics distribution and there is no evidence that he has ever actually done the dishes, we calculate the probability of his story as… etc.
You can see how disruptive this Bayesian stuff is. Now, of course, one might make an ethical argument that our criminal justice system shouldn’t adopt this dangerous new form of logic. However, what tends to happen in the minds of the innocent is that when they see pre-Bayesian reasoning applied by the sovereign in his capacity as justiciar, they believe that this is the correct approved way to think and they should apply it everywhere.
For instance, they believe, an election should be treated as clean until proven dirty. Is this one way to think? It is one way to think. Applying the same pre-Bayesian logic, we could treat it as dirty until proven clean. Or we could forget about null hypotheses and try to come up with a reasonable prior.
Now, I gained a strange new respect for Mother Jones when they brought Sir Robert Filmer to their readers’ attention, and indeed you’ll often see that the oldest, most respectable communist organs can slip sound fascist perspectives into their audience’s eternal blank slate. But on this one, they’re really playing fast and loose.
You can’t compare election fraud convictions to UFO sightings. You have to compare them to UFO interceptions. It’s true that only 13 Americans have been convicted of election fraud in the last decade. Yet in the last decade, not a single UFO has been convicted of trespassing in our solar system. When I sit down and do the math, I find that American election fraud is infinitely more dangerous than an alien invasion. In addition, I note that in the last decade, not a single American has been caught speeding at the Indy 500. It is of course the case that according to the Pew Center, not traditionally known as an outlet for Faux News, one out of every 8 US voter registrations—that would be about 34 million—is bogus. Of course, it’s quite possible that Americans are so honest that 33,999,987 of these fake accounts have gone entirely unused. Would Norman Rockwell vote twice?
This is what’s wonderful about the null hypothesis:
For the head of Libya’s national election commission, the method by which Americans vote is startling in that it depends so much on trust and the good faith of election officials and voters alike.
But that’s exactly what you do with a null hypothesis. You trust it. Until proven otherwise, of course. But of course, since there is no evidence that election officials and voters are acting in bad faith, investigating any such unproven claims is itself in bad faith. It’s probably racist, in fact. (There is no evidence that “Bayesian” is just another word for “racist.”)
You have a gay friend who has frequent unprotected anal sex with strangers in bathhouses. “You should get tested for AIDS,” you tell him. “But there’s no evidence that I have AIDS,” he protests. You point out that he has frequent night sweats and looks like a skeleton. “Sure,” he says. “But lots of things can cause weight loss.” A perfectly true statement. This is more or less the reasoning of the Brennan Center for Justice.
There are also a lot of things that could have created 200,000 more Ohio votes for B.H. Obama in 2012 than in 2008. Plenty of things! On the other hand, given our prior conviction about the popular mood in these years, the outcome seems a bit of a surprise. Bayes’ Theorem is all about surprises.
You have a geek friend who’s a system administrator—but not a good one. You portscan his server. “You have Microsoft RPC services open to the public internet and your Apache install appears to have been last updated in 2006,” you say. “But the site is running fine,” he says. “Is it?” you ask. “Has your intrusion detection picked up any anomalies?” “What’s intrusion detection?” he asks.
So, for example, if you really wanted to know what was going on in American elections, you could audit one. Randomly chosen, after the fact. We’ll take every vote and match it to an actual human being. In all the other precincts, we’ll do what we do now, which is to treat the number as valid however it got into the computer. But in this one, we’ll check every vote.
Has this ever been done? Of course it’s never been done. It would be a gigantic violation of privacy, probably racist. And why? There is no evidence of election fraud.
So, lacking evidence of this character, our tiny but valiant fringe of crazy Americans who for some reason, probably racist, prefer their own prior conviction to the sovereign’s null hypothesis, will just have to take our chances believing their own eyes. Or witnesses whom said eyes find plausible. It’s a humble technique, not in the least scientific. Yet many have done well to rely on it.
Here, according to one witness I find plausible, is what a 21st-century election in the state of Patrick Henry looks like:
I arrived at the polling place at approximately 5:40 a.m. I went into the polling place and showed my credentials to the Chief who showed me where to sit behind the poll workers who would be checking voters in to receive a voting certificate. All of the poll workers were either African American or Hispanic, with the only Caucasians being the Project ORCA watchers. The voters waited in a long line that went outside the building at all times during the day. At one point, probably around 11:00 a.m., I noted that the line was about 300 people long. The line did not break at any time during the day, and there was no time to take a break during the entire day from 6:00 a.m. until the final person voted at close to 8:00 p.m.
Throughout the day, I took note of many irregularities besides the abnormally long lines. The poll workers who regularly work the elections said that they had never seen turnout like what was present. I believe the lead worker said about three times as many people as usual turned out that day to vote and that it is usually a quiet, slow precinct. There were three parts to the voting process. First the voter waited in line to get to the point where I was standing and watching, which was the voter check in, where ID was checked and verified and voting certificates were given out to qualified voters. After receiving a voting card, the voters then stood in line to cast their votes at one of five voting machines. After voting, the voters stood in line to turn in their voting card. Each phase of the line was long and the lines all snaked around at all times.
I was only able to observe the check in phase. As people approached the station of four poll workers who were checking voters in, the voters presented one of the required forms of ID to the poll worker. The poll worker then stated the voter’s name, found them on the database, and then asked for the voter to state his/her name and address. Many, many people were unable to state their names and addresses without assistance. Many, many people said the name was incorrect on their ID due to them getting married or divorced. Many, many people said that the address on their IDs were incorrect due to them having moved recently. Many could not state either the address on their ID or their current address. Many, many people could not speak English and could not follow the directions of “state your name and address.” On the app from which I was checking names, the voter’s name and age appeared. Many, many times, I did not believe that the voter was the age stated on the app. Many, many times, when I went to check off the voter as having voted, the voter was already checked off as having voted. Several times, I would swear that I saw the same person voting twice or heard the same name voting twice, when the app stated that only one voter in the precinct had the stated name. Many times I saw a person who looked Hispanic answer to a name that he or she could barely pronounce that was obviously representative of some other ethnicity, such as Asian or Middle Eastern.
About half of the time that a person had a name or address conflict, that person was sent to the chief to have his/her credentials validated. Each time, that person was allowed to vote, as I saw no provisional ballots recorded throughout the day. About half of the time the person was allowed to verbally correct his/her name or address and was sent to the next phase of the line without having to go to the chief to be approved. I believe a good 10 to 15% of those who voted had questionable ID and qualifications. At one point in the day, an announcement was made that a complaint had been called in to the Board of Elections that handicapped people were not being allowed into the building to vote. The chief made this announcement and stated that it was an untrue allegation. I did not see any handicapped people going through the voting line. …
I believe that most people do not have three hours to wait in line to vote, and it is strange that all of these people with fishy IDs had hours to stand in line and vote. I found numerous blue Democrat ticket sheets showing people how to vote strewn around the polling place. With the lines being long and me not being able to talk to voters as a poll watcher, I had no recourse to accuse suspicious individuals of not being who their ID said they were. I did call to the Romney headquarters and report my suspicions several times, but I do not know what they could have done about the situation, as I could not pull suspicious people out of line.
Ha ha! Joke’s on you, lady. They couldn’t have done anything, of course. So what were you there for? Oh, that’s right, nothing.
Still, look on the bright side. Your poor guy didn’t get elected. You would have felt like a big winner, but putting a Republican in the White House is like electing a Protestant pope. An even bigger joke. A joke of such stupendous magnitude that perhaps it’s not even funny at all.
What’s neat about this system is that in a sense, it is actually more logical than the old Norman Rockwell America that Republicans want to take us back to—you know, the republican Republic, in which elections are decided by philosophical debates among stalwart pillars of the community. As though we lived in ancient Rome, or 17th-century Massachusetts, or something. Do we? Come on, Republicans—do we? Is this really the reality-based community?
No, in the reality-based community, elections are decided by Middle Eastern Hispanics. Or more exactly, whoever can bus more Middle Eastern Hispanics to the booth. Or more exactly, elections are decided by who has power. Does it really matter whether all these Vietnamese Hondurans actually exist? They are not stalwart philosophers—they are numbers in a computer. If they exist, they exist to make the number bigger. If they don’t exist, their purpose and meaning is the same.
If the party with the most power wins the election, continuity is maintained and people can go about their daily lives. If the party with the least power, the party which has no way to organize legions of sock or meatpuppets, wins, what happens? Turbulence, disruption, stupidity, and probably in the end a return to normal conditions. Don’t be turbulent—vote for the winner.
I borrow the term, of course, from Wikipedia, which unlike Virginia is still trying to give the old republican ideal a go. We read:
High-profile disputes on Wikipedia often bring new editors to the site. Some individuals may promote their causes by bringing like-minded editors into the dispute. These editors are sometimes referred to as meatpuppets, following a common Internet usage. While Wikipedia assumes good faith, especially for new users, recruiting new editors to influence decisions on Wikipedia is prohibited.
Wikipedia has processes in place to mitigate the disruption caused by an influx of single-purpose editors:
Consensus in many debates and discussions should ideally not be based upon number of votes, but upon policy-related points made by editors.
In votes or vote-like discussions, new users may be disregarded or given significantly less weight, especially if there are many of them expressing the same opinion. Their comments may be tagged with a note pointing out that they have made few or no other edits outside of the discussion. The term meatpuppet is derogatory and should be used with care, in keeping with Wikipedia’s civility policy. Because of the processes above, it may be counterproductive to directly accuse someone of being a “meatpuppet”, and doing so will often only inflame the dispute.
Well, I hate to be derogatory. But I just can’t bring myself to adore the river of meat.
Sometimes I wonder if the Republicans could man it up and propose a Great Compromise with the Moloch of progressive America. We’d call it a compromise—but I’m really thinking more of a surrender. The compromise (a consent decree, even?) would run as follows:
We, the undersigned Republicans, admit that we are foul kulak racists and deserve only to lose. We shall therefore crawl back into our holes and cling bitterly to our guns, etc. We henceforth dissolve the Republican Party and all its organs, especially Fox News. All future elections will be won by the Democrats, who are winners and golden in the light of Allah. May they enjoy eternal diversity.
We, the undersigned Democrats, accept with a heavy conscience the burden of world domination. We agree to admit that we are the ruling party in a one-party state which controls the entire freakin’ planet. We promise that we will never whine that we’re being oppressed when some stupid worthless kulak thinks he can fight back, which he can’t, for five minutes. And finally, since there are no more elections and no more Republicans to humiliate, we are out of the meatpuppet business. We will no longer import, bribe, invent, or otherwise create meatpuppet or sockpuppet voters. Frankly, we didn’t want these people in Takoma Park anyway. The landscaping might get a little scruffy, but come on—Maryland is full of redneck grits. What do they do all day, farm? They can drive their F150s down from Hagerstown, and come cut our damned lawns.