Carlyle on government reform

I’m working on joining the Froude Society, starting with Thomas Carlyle’s Latter Day Pamphlets. Carlyle’s style is inscrutable, but his ideas are often powerful and penetrating (it’s easy to see the influence on Moldbug). Here’s a quote I enjoyed on government “reform”

Indisputably enough the meaning of all reform-movement, electing and electioneering, of popular agitation, parliamentary eloquence, and all political effort whatsoever, is that you may get the ten Ablest Men in England put to preside over your ten principal departments of affairs.



The collision of materialism and idealism in American Politics

American democracy shows what happens between political contestants when one party is idealistic and the other is not.

I was a Libertarian in college – socially liberal and economically conservative. Still, the College Republicans were friendly to me. They enjoyed a hearty debate over drug legalization, gay marriage, or the War in Iraq. But the College Democrats were weirdly hostile and wouldn’t engage me, though we agreed on many issues.

Republican discourse is idealistic in character. Debate centers around discovering which policies would be best for America, or which policies support shared American values. Republican factions might never reach agreement, but if you’re willing to listen to them, they are willing to listen to you. The Republican youth conference CPAC is a lot of fun to attend for the quality of political conversations.

The Democratic party, however, is thoroughly materialistic. It is all “Who? Whom?”. They will not debate optimal policy with you because that is not what they care about. They care about advancing the interest of their interest groups. The first thought of the College Democrats on me walking into their meeting was thinking who is this guy? Is he one of the people on our side? Being white and male without the typical liberal air of softness and apology was a major tell.

Between the two, Democratic ideology is better adapted for life in a democracy. Rational idealism is a luxury for a trusted, homogenous group. Republicans engaging in idealistic debate foolishly believe that the homogenous America of the first 200 years still exists, that the nation shares a common set of American values. But America is a changin’, as  progressives tell us with glee.

Just as rationalist debate advances policy within groups, “Who? Whom?” is for doing battle between groups. This is tribal warfare on the African savanna and nobody cares what your beliefs are about income taxes. The question of the day is “are you a red or a blue”?

Materialism a very effective strategy in a diverse democracy. Democrats win because Republicans don’t realize that the rules of the game have changed. The national discourse is no longer about optimal policy, “small government”, or “family values”. It is now about stoking class anxiety and class hatred. It is about “wars on women” and the “racism” of voter ID.

Voter ID is a good example of how modern politics work. Republicans adopted the sensible policy that a democratic nation should check ID cards before people are allowed to vote, ensuring that the voter is a citizen with the legal right to vote. Democrats ran screaming, telling minority ethnic groups that the Republicans seek to disenfranchise them. In the last election, minorities voted overwhelmingly for the Democrats, giving them a smashing victory. Anxiety over voter disenfranchisment was no doubt a part of that.

Materialism cannot be combated with Idealism. The more real, the more primitive ideology wins. Resisting primitive ideas requires honor and agreement on both sides. Otherwise, it is as if one party brings a gun to a fistfight.

Democrats are perfectly willing to buy minority votes by helping them defraud the government. The only hope for Republicans is to sink to their level, and thus become a thing that they despise, or perish with the middle-class white majority.

Politically we have returned to a Hobbesian world of all against all and anything goes. The ideologies that win will be the groups that are the first to abandon their idealistic hangups and fight dirty until total victory is attained.

The True Knowledge

Ken Macleod writes the best political sci fi.

I first encountered his work through a libertarian friend’s recommendation of The Stone Canal, a homage to anarcho-capitalism set on a Mars-like colony planet. This lead me to the sequel, The Cassini Division, which depicts the anarcho-socialist society left behind on Earth.

Apparently there are two other books in the series, but I started reading one of them and it was terrible.

Macleod’s books explore the farthest reaches of right and left libertarianism. One of the distinguishing characteristics of both far right and far left ideologies is that they embrace materialism over idealism. They have a delightful hard-headed way of analyzing the mechanisms of power as it actually exists. Who holds the guns? Who makes the call on how they are used? If there is democracy, who controls the education system and the media that determines public opinion? It is no accident that neoreactionaries look to far leftist figures like Alinsky, Chomsky, Lippman, and Lenin for advice on the mechanisms of political change.

On the other hand, the discourse of the intellectual mainstream is idealistic. The power to make their fictions a reality is a given, so they spend their time weaving ever more complicated ideals. It is practically a theological enterprise, scholastic even. Their thoughts are far removed from the mechanism of power – violence is as alien to them as inalienable rights are real. To the extremist, mainstream discourse reads like the Summa Theologica to a non-Catholic.

Lenin’s concise formulation of political logic – “Who? Whom?” is a favorite on the reactionary right. It loses some meaning in translation – the basic idea is that fights over ideology are really fights over people – who wins and who loses, or who is doing and to whom it is being done. The socialist society in The Cassini Division, is based on a similar philosophy called “The True Knowledge”, a shockingly realistic creed:

Life is a process of breaking down and using other matter, and if need be, other life. Therefore, life is aggression, and successful life is successful aggression. Life is the scum of matter, and people are the scum of life. There is nothing but matter, forces, space and time, which together make power. Nothing matters, except what matters to you. Might makes right, and power makes freedom. You are free to do whatever is in your power, and if you want to survive and thrive you had better do whatever is in your interests. If your interests conflict with those of others, let the others pit their power against yours, everyone for theirselves. If your interests coincide with those of others, let them work together with you, and against the rest. We are what we eat, and we eat everything.

All that you really value, and the goodness and truth and beauty of life, have their roots in this apparently barren soil.

This is the true knowledge.

We had founded our idealism on the most nihilistic implications of science, our socialism on crass self-interest, our peace on our capacity for mutual destruction, and our liberty on determinism. We had replaced morality with convention, bravery with safety, frugality with plenty, philosophy with science, stoicism with anaesthetics and piety with immortality. The universal acid of the true knowledge had burned away a world of words, and exposed a universe of things.

Things we could use.

Among untrustworthy people, the True Knowledge is a necessity. Naive idealism always loses against “Who? Whom?”. It is only after sovereignty is secure that the more idealistic side of human nature may be indulged.

This is what winning looks like

Earlier this week I stumbled on a treasure trove of videos reporting from the ground in the Muslim world on I’ve gobbled up about 5 or 6 hours of video since then on topics such as the political confrontations in Egypt, life in the Gaza strip, and riots in Turkey. Who wouldn’t prefer learning about events in the Muslim world from the mouths of actual residents instead of the same old American partisan peanut gallery?

“This is what winning looks like” is the title of a documentary on Vice about the transition of security responsibilities in Afghanistan from American troops to native police in preparation for a 2014 departure date scheduled for American forces. It’s a fascinating look into the longest running American military campaign of all time.

After the first 10 minutes of video, it’s clear that the American forces face an impossible task. When the US Army crushed the ruling Taliban’s Islamic government in the 2001 invasion, it also drove out all the native governing talent and competence.  What remains is shocking corruption, underscoring the folly of nation building and of forcing Western-style government on people that are not suited to it.

The police stations in Afghanistan are commanded by corrupt officials who are not above lining their pockets by selling their own fortifications for scrap metal. The police commanders use the vehicles and weapons given them by America to harass local rivals and pursue vendettas instead of enforcing anything like a rule of law. In their leisure time, they kidnap local boys and use them as sex slaves, shooting them if they try to run away. The front-line troops are too high on weed and opium to be of much use against armed resistance.

It’s clear that these are the dregs of society, capitalizing on the American security budget to gain a bit of advantage. When the Americans leave, they will not last a month against the Taliban, and few of them will try to do so.

One bright spot of competence comes from the national army. It largely consists of the northern ethnic groups that opposed the Taliban in the civil war of the 90s. Their officers and trained troops were spared in the American invasion. Ethnic groups from southern villages are barely represented in the Northern-dominated army, after all they supported and supplied the Taliban in the civil war.

We witness the army liberating villages from the Taliban, only to find the locals completely apathetic to the change. The army implores them to form a local police force, to resist the Taliban and aid in the construction of a new order for Afghanistan. However, the locals refuse to do so, knowing that the Taliban will be back within an hour after the army leaves. What hope does any local village have to fight the Taliban? Why should they die for nothing?

It’s clear that the new government that America is building is not a native Afghani institution, and that it is unlikely to work when American troops leave. The best that can be hoped for is a colonial government of Northern ethnic groups dominating the South, the reverse of the result of the civil war. A pan-Afghani liberal democracy is not in the cards, and one wonders how any fool thought it would result given how alien it is to local culture.

The American soldiers in the film are sympathetic. A marine (Major Steuber) is interviewed that is fully aware of the impossibility of his task, but he does his best anyway to fulfill his duty. He shows empathy and understanding of the various sides in the conflict, and a burning desire to set things right.

One gets the feeling that if this were a straight up colonial invasion, troops like Major Steuber would have no trouble imposing order. The pedophile base commanders would be put against the wall in the first week, supplies would flow, and corruption would be rooted out. But that is not his mission, and there is no greater torture than binding the hands of a capable man and putting him in the middle of a system that is deeply broken.

American Imperialism never went away, it just changed forms. Its new goal is spreading the American way of life. What America seeks is not physical dominance, but intellectual. It seeks not empire, but conversion; it is an evangelical philosophy of politics. It wants to hear the sweet ideals of Thomas Jefferson and Barack Obama tumbling sincerely out of Afghan lips. So it demands that the locals run the government themselves, blindly assuming that all peoples are compatible with a Western-style government and that they will find it desirable. This is false, of course.

A step too far

I haven’t commented on US drone strikes in Afghanistan and other countries. Frankly, I don’t have much of an opinion on the tactic. The purpose of a military is to kill the enemies of a nation, and death is a messy business. Civilian casualties happen. They’re regrettable and often counter-productive. But history doesn’t provide many examples of successful countries that had many qualms concerning the destruction of their enemies. If I were a general and if I had access to classified military information, I could make an informed decision about whether or not the collateral damage were worth the benefit of dead terrorists. But I’m not a general and I don’t have access to this information.

9/11 happened. Nearly 5,000 Americans died. Osama bin Ladin claimed credit for it, and he was found hiding in Pakistan, where he was killed. US intelligence says there’s more terrorists in Pakistan, and that is prima facie evidence that legitimizes drone strikes in the region. Don’t mistake me for some bleeding heart pacifist.

But this is a step too far, and I cannot condone it. News organs are reporting that the United States has adopted the “double tap” maneuver, launching a second missile with a delay after the first in order to kill rescuers and responders to the initial assault:

That tactic is known as the “double tap,” which bombs multiple targets in relatively quick succession — meaning that the second strike often hits first responders.

Fighting terrorists is valuable, but lets be clear that the United States has the military upper hand in the conflict. There is no need for the United States to terrorize civilian populations. The side with the upper hand can and should afford to be gracious, a little noblesse oblige  would be appropriate.

I’m listening to a podcast series on the Mongol empire under Genghis Khan, and this is a tactic straight out of their playbook. The great Khan once ordered a general to wipe out a city, and so he did, ordering his army to cut down each man, woman, and child. But to be thorough, the general returned a day later and killed everyone that had returned from hiding to pick over the scraps and to mourn the dead.

Such vicious actions fit with the Khan’s plan of global conquest, adopting the most brutal tactics possible to scare great walled cities into submission rather than fighting. But it is harder to see how the actions of the US government fit into its duty to protect its citizens and territory from attack.

China and the Cathedral

China takes a lot of flak in the West for their internet censorship program. Many popular international social networks, mostly US based companies, are blocked. And China is ruthless in censoring topics that might damage the legitimacy of the ruling regime.

But looking at the world from the Chinese perspective, and you have to admit that the strategy of the Chinese government is savvy and effective. It does not see Western companies like Facebook and Google as neutral entertainment services, but rather as information organs that can spread Western ideas. “Chinese Democracy” has no appeal to CCP leaders. They don’t relish a future where the politics of China is controlled by parties influenced and funded covertly by the US. Recent revelations of the full scope of NSA wiretapping capabilities, and the complicity of private US companies in US government spying, only add to the apparent wisdom of the ChiComs.

China is not the first regime to recognize the danger of Western information diplomacy and has taken steps to preserve their independence. But they are the country that pulls it off best. China has the brainpower and resources to make high-quality copies of Western services that it bans from its borders. There is no embarrassing Red Star OS here. Weibo, for example, is a popular service with 500 million users similar to a combination of Twitter and Facebook. But unlike Twitter and Facebook, which ultimately answer to Western governments, Weibo answers to the Chinese government on issues of censorship or access to user data. In America, social networks sometimes block users and messages who violate the standards of Political Correctness – the popular version of the Marxist religion of the ruling class. In China, social networks also block users and messages that threaten the ruling regime.

China operates the largest political sphere free from US/Cathedral influence. Recognizing the danger of Western information organs is one of the important ways it maintains its independence. It also fiercely guards its territory, ignoring Western liberals who call for independence for Tibet, greater democracy in the Chinese mainland, or the relinquishment of its claims to disputed territory – as if capitulating to enemies of the state were the best way to maintain their sovereignty. The Chinese government may have other problems, but it is not run by fools.

If there is a chink in the armor of the Chinese regime, it is probably their tolerance of religion. Christianity, in particular, is a gateway drug to Western liberalism. Wikipedia references sources putting the number of Christians at about 84 million.

I admire the savviness of the Chinese leadership required to maintain true independence from the long arm of Western influence. I am happy that some degree of political and ideological competition will remain in the world. That said, China is not utopia. It is only proof that we don’t yet live under a one-world shadow government.

Mapping the Cathedral

To shamelessly rip off an argument from Moldbug – words have meaning. “Independent” means “not dependent”. In Egypt, two governments have been overthrown by popular protest in the last year or so, and now the military is building a third. During the process of writing a new Constitution, military leaders are listening closely to the desires of the USA, on which they are dependent for $1.5 billion in annual aid.

If Egypt is letting a foreign entity influence its Constitution in exchange for a bribe, there is no reasonable way to consider it as an “independent” country. Political maps which show it to be so are best understood as a kind of whimsical artistic exercise.

Out of curiosity, I looked up some foreign aid statistics, and stumbled upon a handy web 2.0 mapping tool that the Obamatons have built. I flipped to a recent year like 2012, and this is the map that results:

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That’s a truly massive footprint, far larger than I expected. Some of these areas are not under tight US control – China remains the nation most independent from US/Cathedral dominion. The aid they receive isn’t much, and it probably reflects State Department optimism more than anything else.

But foreign aid isn’t the only way that the Cathedral conquers. Most of the gray area of the map is also firmly under American influence, otherwise Snowden would have applied for asylum in France or Australia. European countries depend on America for military protection and therefore dance to America’s tune. It would be cool to pair this aid map with a map of all the countries hosting US troops in the world.