To be quite honest, I never liked the late Aaron Swartz—not that I ever met him. In fact, to be extremely honest (and I genuinely regret this), I was happy when I heard of his legal problems. Why? Is this just because I’m a bad person?
Maybe. For one thing, failed child prodigies always have it in for non-failed child prodigies. For another, deplorable Ashkenazi ghetto inbreeding produced a world in which a picture of me at any age is easily mistaken for Aaron Swartz at the same age—which is just creepy. And at whatever age, reliable reports have it that the deceased equaled or even exceeded my own record as a supremely obnoxious little twerp.
But finally, there was Aaron’s (isn’t it a sad comment on our age that the only address which seems appropriate for a dead 26-year-old man is his first name, as if he was still a teenager? But aren’t we all still teenagers these days?) soul-devouring Chomskyism. While Aaron was alive, this was easy to resent. Since he is dead, what remains can only be regret. So, let’s regret.
Y’all can blame who you like for Aaron’s suicide. I blame Noam Chomsky, whose supercharged blue pills have devastated kilotons of innocent young brains as a regrettable side effect of winning Professor Chomsky enormous fame and wealth. The typical teenage victim knows, with every bone in his naturally rebellious body, that he’s grown up in Plato’s cave. Our Professor, renowned the world over but especially in Venezuela, agrees! And helpfully guides his innocent charge to an oddly well-lit shaft in the back of the cave which leads down to… an even deeper cave. Coach Sandusky had nothin’ on him.
How does this work? Aaron, born one of humanity’s natural nobles, grows up in a century cleansed by military force of its own cultural heritage, in which all surviving noble ideals are leftist ideals. No one ever had a chance to tell him that his only honorable option was to live in the past. And in any case, that option was probably too antisocial even for Aaron Swartz. He must be noble, he cannot retreat to mere selfish bourgeois money-grubbing and family-rearing. So he must be an activist.
So he takes the blue pill. He starts with a blue joint or two and gradually works his way up to the blue heroin. He believes in his century’s narrative as it is—except more so. Why not more so? For even without marinating his brain in Chomsky, what bright young person can miss all the trouble our polity has in living up to its own comm—I mean, “progressive”—ideals?
The Nazis are beaten, supposedly. But somehow the seeds of autocracy are everywhere. Wherever you see a corporation, you see a little Third Reich with its own pompous CEO-führer. Wherever you see property, especially inherited property (have you noticed the increasingly universal meme of saying “privilege” when you mean “property?”), you see a little king of a little kingdom, whose answer to “why do you own this” is no more than “because I do.”
As an Aaron Swartz bred on Horace instead of John Dewey might have remarked, tamen usque recurret.1 Of course the utopia is unachievable. As a geek world which had not Chomsky but Mosca on its dogeared hackerspace bookshelves would know in its bones, autocracy is universal and cannot be repealed, only concealed. Always and everywhere, strong minorities rule weak majorities.
You cannot drive out nature with a pitchfork.2 You can drive out great oaks with an axe. But you already did that. What did you get? Weeds—giant, pitchfork-proof weeds. Autocratic and unaccountable power in the modern democracy has been dispersed, but not in any way dissolved. Sovereignty remains conserved.
Indeed by any metric there is far more woody biomass than ever before. The US Attorney’s office has also its little kings, no more accountable than Henry VII. Who took orders only from God, just like any “apolitical” “civil servant.” But at least there was only one Henry VII.
Broadly speaking, decision-making authority (i.e., power) in a modern democracy is divided between two kinds of people: lobbyists and activists. Lobbyists are only interested in money. Activists are only interested in power. Sometimes a great nexus of corruption thrusts forth a figure of genius, such as Al Gore, who dazzles us with a talent for both.
And then of course, we have the poor passionate true believers. I love the Obama administration because it is so easy to tell the Aaron Swartzes, the Glenn Greenwalds, the Chomskyites who actually believe in Chomsky (which may, or may not, include the master himself—who ever knows?), from the rest of the Morgul-army. I’m quite convinced that Glenn Greenwald really has no idea at all why liberal public opinion stopped giving a damn about torture in 2008.
Here’s how Chomsky kills: first, he sets you to the pitchfork. In the Plato’s cave of Chomsky it is not nature, of course, that you are driving out with a pitchfork. It is black, unnatural, fascist conspiracy. Which is naturally everywhere—and yet, everywhere in embryo. Giant terrifying kings and dictators are nowhere to be hacked and sawn. It was your ancestors who had this privilege. Today, in a diminished age, the enemy is no more than the seeds and sprouts of advancing black reaction, whose every great stump is crowned with dangerous suckers.
And while these seedlings are everywhere, each is small and weak. Individually, they yield quite handily to the hoe, giving the stalwart farmer a sense of progress and victory. If only a local sense. For the activist who is only really interested in power, this is quite enough. He just wants to be part of something that’s fighting something else. It’s a normal human drive. And of course, his team is the winning team, which he likes quite well.
You can be this farmer, and live a happy, successful and fulfilling life. But be sure to focus on the seedlings. Or the old dead stumps. Notice, however, that the vines which slew those old trees have grown so great and woody that they almost resemble trees themselves… and you are in for a different experience. At the very least, you’ll need to come back with something sharper than a pitchfork.
The truth is that the weapons of “activism” are not weapons which the weak can use against the strong. They are weapons the strong can use against the weak. When the weak try to use them against the strong, the outcome is… well… suicidal.
Who was stronger—Dr. King, or Bull Connor? Well, we have a pretty good test for who was stronger. Who won? In the real story, overdogs win. Who had the full force of the world’s strongest government on his side? Who had a small-town police force staffed with backward hicks? In the real story, overdogs win.
“Civil disobedience” is no more than a way for the overdog to say to the underdog: I am so strong that you cannot enforce your “laws” upon me. I am strong and might makes right—I give you the law, not you me. Don’t think the losing party in this conflict didn’t try its own “civil disobedience.” And even its own “active measures.” Which availed them—what? Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi.3
In the real world in which we live, the weak had better know their own weakness. If they would gather their strength, do it! But without fighting, even “civil disobedience.” To break a law is to fight. Those who fight had better be strong. Those who are not strong, had better not fight.
And this is how Chomskyism killed Aaron Swartz and may yet get its hands on a similar figure, Julian Assange. You know, when I read that Assange had his hands on a huge dump of DoD and State documents, I figured we would never see those cables. Sure enough, the first thing he released was some DoD material.
Why? Well, obviously, Assange knew the score. He knew that Arlington is weak and Georgetown is strong. He knew that he could tweak Arlington’s nose all day long and party on it, making big friends in high society, and no one would even think about reaching out and touching him. Or so I thought.
In fact, my cynicism was unjustified. In fact, Assange turned out to be a true believer, not a canny schemer. He was not content to wield his sword against the usual devils of the Chomsky narrative. Oh no, the poor fscker believed that he was actually there to take on the actual powers that be. Who are actually, of course, unlike the cartoon villains… strong. If he didn’t know that… he knows it now!
Better to be a live dog than a dead hero. But had Aaron Swartz plugged his laptop into the Exxon internal network and downloaded everything Beelzebub knows about fracking, he would be a live hero to this day. Why? Because no ambitious Federal prosecutor in the 21st century would see a route to career success through hounding some activist at Exxon’s behest. Your prosecutor would have to actually believe he was living in the Chomsky world. Which he can’t, because that narrative is completely inconsistent with the real world he goes to work in every day.
But when you take on a genuinely respected institution—whether State or MIT—your “civil disobedience” has all the prospects of George Wallace in the schoolhouse door. Listen to Swartz:
There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.
We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.
You’ll note the tone of this manifesto, which is the typical vaunting, bullying tone of the powerful addressing the powerless. Your so-called laws are worthless, it says, because law means nothing without power. It is we who have the power, we who make the real laws.
Yes, indeed! Today, it is really the progressive activist who is closest to the essential truth of all political endeavor—the fact that Might makes Right. (What pathetic scraps of the American peasant right remain will probably figure this out shortly before my cat discovers the Higgs boson. And I don’t even have a cat. Culture drives politics! Tell it to the Albigensians. If culture drove politics, Nazi Germany would still be Nazi.)
Of course the man of the left cannot admit that he has discovered this forbidden secret of history. Indeed with every breath he must shout its converse. But he knows it in every bone of his body, and if he is a prudent leftist his actions bear it out.
If he is not a prudent leftist? Then he takes his beliefs seriously, and speaks actual truth to actual power. Well, ya know, power doesn’t like that much.