Monday, 24 July 2017

The Devil is in the bargain bin

Here’s the thing, if you want to increase the diversity in businesses by adding more representation (of what…exactly? Customers? The public? A particular suburb? Your house?), go ahead. But you have to take responsibility for all the consequences, both good and bad.

Consider this direct quote from the Ministry of Women’s website: “Since 1986 the female labour force has increased by more than 50% and internationally New Zealand’s female labour force participation rate is above the OECD average.”

That’s fine, and I applaud the individual success of each and every one of those women. Yet the latest OECD Economic Survey of New Zealand shows this country’s labour productivity consistently dropping every year since that time.

Am I saying there’s a correlation? You bet. Is the diversification of gender at workplaces at fault? Who knows? But to pretend the push for diversity is an unmitigated good for society is disingenuous at best and manipulative at worst.

Are there plenty of mediocre men in the workplace who would be thrown out on their asses if more women challenge them? Absolutely. But the framing of this question assumes every time a woman is hired to replace a man it necessarily, by some magic, increases the quality of that workforce, when this simply isn’t true.

You’ll also notice that since about 1987 or so, consumer spending has gone waaaaay up as well. Hmmmm, how interesting. At the risk of sounding sexist, heavy consumption is a stereotype of women. Is this a victory for diversity in the workplace as well? Or does that not fit the narrative? Only in this culture do we want the system to force us to do the right thing so we can take the credit.

When they ask for more women CEOs, feminists miss the only important question: why is it always about access? Why don't women just, you know, invent their own things? The system isn’t stopping women from building anything. Instead, they want to be given power, rather than take it. By all means, write a story people will be telling in a thousand years. But to think you're better than someone who wrote a story 2000 years ago that you’re still reciting only broadcasts your resentment and incompetence. Wouldn't it be better to encourage women to participate in STEM for the sake of construction itself? Dispense with the power games already. You don't even like guns, and you're gonna need them eventually if you're on that path.

In The Devil Wears Prada, Anne Hathaway gets a job in her chosen field, and although she performs the job just fine, she is treated poorly because she doesn't share Meryl Streep's values.

Hathaway is beaten down by Streep until she upends her values, abandons her personal life and destroys her relationships in order to placate her abusive boss, who in return belittles her for not knowing the history of the colour of her sweater. So what? Hathaway has Stockholm syndrome? That's the easy criticism. No - listen closely to Streep's words:

"This... 'stuff'? Oh... ok. I see, you think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select out, oh I don't know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue, it's not turquoise, it's not lapis, it's actually cerulean. You're also blindly unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. 
"And then I think it was Yves St Laurent, wasn't it, who showed cerulean military jackets? And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic "casual corner" where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and so it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of 'stuff.'"

Yeah, well, two can play at that game. Did you know that the width of European rail tracks can be traced back to the average width of a Roman horse butt? Romans built a lot of roads for vehicles designed to be drawn by two horses, which determined the axle length. Over the years, they left grooves, so everybody who came after them made carts the same width because otherwise, it was a bumpy ride.

When train cars were invented, engineers naturally used existing carts as a model, so the size of the subway car Streep took to that fitting room was a result of horse breeding decisions made thousands of years ago. Like she said though, small things can propagate across time. It does not, however, make ancient Roman horse butts inherently important.

The joke is on Streep because even with all that work and effort in fashion, the result of the cerulean sweater still ended up in a bargain bin where girls like Hathaway purchase it without a single care for fashion. All that effort, for what? Did you make some money? Get some prestige? Did you win sex? Because those are the reasons men work insane hours at their jobs.

Being a CEO isn't about the creativity for men. Or, more precisely, if being creative didn't earn men sex, would they still work like this? So then why are women fighting to get to more work if they don't even know what the reward is? I get that women want to be allowed to work. But 60 hour weeks, constant litigation threats and multiple million-dollar loan repayments? Really, you want that? You do realise men don't care about how much power a woman has, right? The singer Lorde is probably filthy rich, but I don't know any guy who wants to bang her.

Streep is a tool for the system. She smirks in superiority because she "knows" how the system works? But she is only allowed to know how it works because her enlightenment poses no threat to it whatsoever. Streep's character might act like she's got it all figured out, but she has no idea what forces were acting on her and what these forces wanted from her that she was elevated to celebrity status. Most men don't even know - and they set the system up this way.

No one seems to acknowledge the uniquely male aspect here either. Clothes that are traditionally male constitute a smaller set than clothes that are female. Women can wear men’s shirts, jeans, t-shirts, tactical gear and are still women. They can also wear dresses, skirts and more conservative clothing and still code as a woman.

You might say the mainstream, therefore, believes girls dressing as boys and doing boy things is an upgrade for girls, whereas boys dressing as girls is a downgrade for boys. It’s not. The consumers are women, the rest of you pad the numbers. You have your sexism backwards. People generally imagine "sexism" as institutional power directed top down against women, oppressing them with sexist jokes. But it's much more illuminating to understand sexism as just another tool to increase consumption. Even Streep knows it costs more for women to dress professionally, even though they get probably paid less.

Do you understand the infrastructure necessary to cause people to disavow something that they know with total clarity, just to keep the money flowing? Replace "feminism" with "civil rights" and "executive positions" with "votes." It doesn't matter. This is a game that can be played forever. The form of the question is about whether The Beast is being fed. You have to defeat consumerism or any social change will be for nought, just frantic energy dissipating like a car up on the blocks, gunning its engine in furious self-righteousness as it passes hundred dollar bills to the gasman. I'm aware how quickly that metaphor collapsed.

I just think anyone who says diversity is only about “treating people fairly” should keep in mind that the system doesn’t see you as a person, it only sees you as a battery. It doesn’t care about your sex, gender, religion or political belief. It only cares that you act in the required direction. All you’re good for is how much you can produce and consume.

The problem is, even when women get that CEO position, what will it take for them to stop and ask, “hey, why did they let so many of us in?...”

Saturday, 22 July 2017

On choices, Christianity and Chester Bennington

I

Chester Bennington died yesterday. He was the frontman for Linkin Park, which was a big part of my life as a teenager. The Meteora album was in my portable CD player when it stopped working.

II

Linkin Park wasn't a refuge for me. There was nothing about my life that needed the kind of self-reflection the metal genre seems to offer kids. I spent most of my time outside having fun sneaking around my neighbourhood or building ridiculous huts out of plywood and incompetence. I grew up in a transitional era when computer games were pathetic but immensely creative and nowhere as fun as shooting joey guns and exploding fireworks.

That was the world of my Linkin Park discovery. Actually, it was my neighbour Mark who introduced me. His mother bought the Hybrid Theory album and they both had excellent taste in music so I knew it would be good. I used to wander over to his place to listen to it while we played Halo. I think for about a week over the school holidays, we cranked that CD loud. And then one day Mark said, "Nah, not Lick My Park again, let's listen to Queen." I'm not sure how long it took me to buy my own copy of Hybrid Theory, but I eventually did. It wasn't my first CD, that award goes to The Corrs (yes, I know...)

It's hard to put a finger on exactly why I listened to Linkin Park. Maybe it was rebellious, but I don't think so. My departure from religion was actually very structured. I picked up a book by New Zealand journalist Ian Wishart called The Divinity Code and started reading. On the second page, he introduced the four writers called the "new atheists." Rather than let him explain what those people wrote, I read the four books first and returned to his critique afterwards.

So Linkin Park wasn't some sort of devil worship gateway music. Rock music is a kind of channelled aggression mostly lacking in the rest of my life. In some way, it's cathartic for teenagers. And I was already deconstructing my religious upbringing anyway.

III

But I'm writing this because Chester killed himself. He wasn't caught in a car accident and his heart didn't suddenly give out. He tied one end of some sort of rope to a tall, sturdy object and fashioned a tight knot closing a loop around his neck. I hear Chester struggled with drugs and alcohol and I know he was abused as a child, although I don't want to hear the details and won't be searching them out. Something about his struggle was too great a burden, and so he chose to finish it.

I remember in my mid-teens telling my mother I'd thought about suicide. Even now I don't think that confession was true. Sure, I probably "thought about it" but it wasn't a contemplation - there's a difference. My teen years introduced the normal adolescent skin problems which I found tough to deal with. I realise now most of them could have been averted if I knew to change my pillowcase every night (you spend about eight hours each day rubbing your damn face on a single piece of cloth, so of course there'll be issues). I naturally had ups and downs with self-esteem. I could get a bit, well, melodramatic. Bear in mind I still believed in magic as a Christian. So perhaps I was just hoping the Big Guy upstairs would hear my despair. My mother took the skin issues seriously, but she had no idea how to fix them. Propitiations were probably all my immature mind had left to do.

Chester's life was nothing like mine. Fighting others is far simpler than fighting yourself. The mind is an abusive boyfriend that will do ANYTHING to avoid change. It will even destroy itself to cancel the effort. Perhaps this was Chester's central issue, I have no idea. But if nothing external could help him, then the enemy was internal. Everyone knows what kind of adversary the self can be. Maybe you aren't fighting it today, but you will eventually. So you should learn now, while there's still time, how to defend against your self's attempts to defend itself.

Yesterday one of my Christian friends said Chester set a bad example for his fans by killing himself. I realise Chester isn't doing much of anything right now, but that wasn't the point. Linkin Park's music was introspective and castigating, not of others, but of the band's personal struggles. The lyrics were their experiences and we were simply the third parties. The songs didn't belong to us. It was their trial.

My friend's point was that it's all well Linkin Park expressed those trials in musical form, trying work things out and recover - whatever recovery looks like - but when Chester hanged himself he showed his fans how the recovery couldn't be done. That no matter how tightly he bandaged his demons, experiences and fears, his inimical self was victorious anyway. That's not a good message.

IV

And I agree, to a certain extent. But religion is clouding my friend's judgement. You see, to him, there's something special about life. Most Christians don't quite know what exactly this "specialness" is, but they have a gene-deep certainty that it's there. Apparently, only God is capable of giving life, so He's the one who gets to retract it. So to take your own life is a sin because it's not yours to take away. This is perfectly reasonable thinking - for a slave.

The thing about being a slave is you don't know you're a slave. We're told the fences are there to protect us from the outside threats. Strongmen are at the top because no one knows what to do next. God is needed otherwise we wouldn't know right from wrong. The manacles on our wrists and markings on our shoulders display group identity, not ownership. In fact, those aren't shackles at all, says the new master, they're...something else.

But a freed slave only changes his master. The fresh restraints are sold to him in the exuberance of transitional freedom as the semiotics of emancipation, not of new slavery. The slave believes and uses the names for the restraints uttered by his new master who calls them by any name except limitation.

This is why you should never wear a sign or speak a slogan you didn't invent, it is only another manacle. Christians are still using other people's words to describe themselves. They speak about mercy, grace, righteousness, resurrection, etc. The proclamation is simple: my life would not be complete without this belief system. I was one way before, and now I am different. But only slaves look for someone else to free them, for a saviour. They never observe how simple it is to free yourself. What keeps a slave in line is the false assumption that on the other side of the fence lies danger and fear. Where did the slave hear this? Was it from his master?

Speaking strictly from a historical perspective, Christianity is a slave religion. It was built by peasants frustrated at the corrupt priestly caste in first century Judea. The priests were supposed to defend and help the peasant caste, but they aligned themselves instead with Rome's power. In early Judea, the peasants were always going to find a messiah. It was just a matter of time. And what better way to galvanise a desperate caste so fearful of the fence than for that saviour to also be a God?

V

My friend made the central mistake of all slaves. He gave a specific power to Chester to send some ethereal "message" and cause teenagers to act in a particular direction. This specific power is the first one removed by any master (and readily given up as too burdensome by every slave). It is the power of agency. Whatever your reaction to Chester's death, saying it sends a bad message is founded on the assumption that other people have the authority to set standards. Which is why the reflex is to complain about the actions of a singer, not assert the insignificance of those actions.

This is the same problem with those hoping to ban Photoshopping in magazines. This obsessive worry about what's in an ad is completely predicated on the assumption that the ad, the media, has all the power to decide what's desirable. And therefore, of course, it does. But the important point is not that you believe this to be true, the point is that you want this to be true. You want it to be true that advertising sets the standard of beauty because in the insane calculus of your psychology you have a better chance of changing ads than you have of changing yourself.

Christians can't comprehend suicide because no slave knows what it's like to have power. I was told once that being blind doesn't mean a person sees black all the time. It's more like seeing out of your elbow. This is what Christians don't understand. Before you were born, there was only nothingness. And you will return to nothingness once this brief spark sputters for the last time. It will not be a continuous, never-ending stretch of days being dead. It will be as if you have never existed. Death is like seeing out your elbow.

And for someone like Chester to enact the ultimate power over the one thing he truly had control should not be seen as abhorrent. Neither should it be seen as good. Suicide is painful for those left on this crusty planet. But it's not for them! If you organise your life around what other people feel, you'll never be happy and neither will they. Letting externalities guide your life is the definition of slavery, which is precisely why Christians use this argument.

My reading of the Stoics is that life is the toughest thing any of us will ever do. And attempting to apprehend and grapple with your own limitation and vulnerability to reduce the amount of suffering for you and others is the only job you have while this spark is burning. It's difficult, but you still have to do it anyway. The most frightening thing about existential power is how easy it is to hand it over to any master offering fresh fences.

VI

In Breaking Bad, Walter White chooses not to get chemotherapy to treat his cancer, which might look like agency, but it is not. He rationalises his decision by saying:

"All right, I've got the Talking Pillow now. Okay? We all, in this room, we love each other. We want what's best for each other, and I know that. I am very thankful for that. 
"But what I want. What I want, what I need, is a choice. Sometimes, I feel like I never actually make any of my own. Choices, I mean. My entire life, it just seems I never you know, had a real say about any of it. Now this last one, cancer all I have left is how I choose to approach this."

And he sounds in charge. He sounds like he knows what he's doing. But it is a mistake. His thoughts are wrong in the only way that matters: pro status quo. Walter complains about never having made a decision in his life. Up until now, his life has coasted along. Go to school. Get a degree. Find a job. Get married. Pay your taxes. Buy a house. His life is like a cart on tracks. Now the Talking Pillow gives him one final decision in his miserable life. But this is all a lie.

Walter is trapped in the thinking of a slave. He looks into his past and sees nothing but an uninterrupted line of compelled decisions. He sees the servitude, but he doesn't comprehend its grip. Walter confuses his correct decisions - from the perspective of the system - with a lack of existential power. This is the trap. He doesn't see how every second of every day he was actually in control. Nothing stopped him from getting up, right now, and flying to Fiji. At no point was he ever robbed of agency.

But because he made the choices the system wanted him to make, his life was harmonious and everything seemed to line up. He studied and got a job. He talked to a girl and got married. He paid his taxes and the IRS didn't blow off his door hinges. At every step, Walter was in control. Yet here he sits complaining of a life as a crippled slave. No Walter, you are lying to yourself.

When he takes control over his life, the path set up by the system begins to fork. This wasn't the first crossroads he'd seen, but it is the only one he's ever really looked at. So he turns left and climbs over that fence. It is at that moment Walter discovers something real about existential power. Slaves live behind that fence with plug-and-play livelihoods painted by choices made in the required direction. But when you decide to apprehend life, when you climb over the fence, the system cannot protect you any longer.

And that's the thing about existential power. Choices made from the moment you realise you have it might lead to incredible riches and wonderment - or everyone around you could die. This is what it means to no longer be a slave. You are at the mercy of the nature of reality. There is nothing more empowering than this. But if the result of emancipation could be the collapse of everything, then is it any wonder why enlightenment is in such short supply?

Walter picked his life. You may not think you picked yours, you may think you were forced into it and inescapably tied to it, but I know that every moment is a choice, right up to and including blowing your brains out. Saying, "I had no choice," is itself a choice. Your choices may be stupid, but they're still choices. And as all choices in life are ultimately binary, you really have no one else to blame for them but yourself. Flipping a coin should win you happiness 50% of the time. If you're running less than that...well, consider getting a coin.

Walter and Chester both knew something about the world Christians can never know. Sometimes the task of embracing the consequences of choices might lead to a decision that the burden is simply too great. Going once more into that forbidding land outside the fence is simply not worth the effort this time. It is then that the freed slave still has the blessing of falling to his knees and embracing the full meaning of agency with one final choice. To secure existential power and snuff out the spark.

I get that it's easier to be a slave, and far less suffering will come with that choice. But I am asking you, at what cost?

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Translating James "Mad Dog" Mattis

Jim Mattis is an interesting dude. He gave an interview to a high school newspaper recently and a transcript was made of the exchange. Do read the whole thing.

But in case you don't read it, I want to tease out a few things because I think the way someone talks to students will be different to adults. Turns out it's disturbingly enlightening.

The first thing to notice is the core dynamic of American power laid bare at the beginning: the power struggle over Washington between diplomats (State) and soldiers (Defence), played out in proxy battles in faraway lands. Mattis neatly bridges the Potomac with a shout out to Tillerson, who about nine months ago was still serving industry as an ExxonMobil CEO (ExxonMobil is a transnational corporate, part of the extended civil service tied to the Pentagon). Here's Mattis:

"So what you have to do is make certain that your foreign policy is led by the diplomats, not by the military. I meet for breakfast once a week with Secretary of State Tillerson and I’ll advise him on the military factors for his foreign policy, but I do not believe that military issues should lead in foreign policy. I think that’s where diplomats lead and the military then reinforces the diplomats."

Notice how the set-up has the military playing the supporting role, while the diplomats are in the supported role. This is deliberate. When the Republicans are in the White House, the Pentagon has control of the executive. And boosting the diplomats might sound like he's abdicating an opportunity to drive home the nail. Not really. State pulled the same move in reverse for the last eight years, and for the same reasons. What's going on here is simple.

Framing it in this way, Mattis gets to say that when things go bad the blame should be with the diplomats and Defence was only helping out. But really, at least for the next 3.5 years, it will be Defence calling the major shots (pun intended) in Washington. State will work to undermine Defence, just as Defence did during Obama, but it won't have the platform (executive office) to broadcast to the American people its side of the story.

So for the time being, Mattis gets to pretend like the two factions are working together, when really he's neatly saying that when things inevitably go wrong, Defence was doing everything it could, but State screwed things up.

The meat of the interview, at least for me, starts when Mattis brings up the Marshall Plan:

"And look at us today, where Germany and Japan are two of our strongest allies in the United Nations, in NATO, in the Pacific. I think what you want to do is look at the Marshall Plan, but instead of the American’s carrying the full burden or even the heaviest burden, look at all the nations in the world since many nations have become wealthy since World War II, and see it as being an international effort."

I find this disturbing. The way I see it, the Marshall Plan was a result of the US and its allies entirely eviscerating their political enemies in Japan, Germany and Italy. Note that "political" refers to the different versions of democracy fought over during WWII and that the US waged war, not for freedom, but to remake the world in its democratic image. The 20th century was bloody not because people are nasty and evil but because democracy is the antithesis of good government.

The Marshall Plan should be seen as the US equivalent of the colonisation of Europe. It was the wholesale purchase (sorry, "aid") of Europe. And when you free a slave, the slave isn't let loose - he only changes master. Thus, the story of the 20th century. The Plan rebuilt Europe, sure, but at what cost? It seems to me, it only worked because the entire continent was exhausted, completely at the mercy of a rabid and angry new owner from across the Atlantic.

And now Mattis wants a new Marshall Plan in the Arab world? Do these words not enlighten us as to why Obama thought it a good idea to set the whole region aflame in 2011 with the Arab Spring? I'm not talking about coups and clandestine measures. At least not directly. Those are ham-fisted when conducted by Americans, and let's be honest, usually end in tears.

It was the incredible media messaging for decades, delivered all across the Middle East, from CNN and the State Department saying: rise up, tip over your autocratic governments and the US shall defend your democracy! Well, how did that work out in Libya, Syria Afghanistan and Iraq? Not so well, at least from where I'm sitting.

Run the numbers and you'll see why the logical thing for Mattis to suggest is a new Marshall Plan. After all, if you break it, you buy it. The Middle East is on fire and Washington has been pumping gasoline through its long and winding firehose. And you thought it was cool water pouring from the nozzle...

"On the education, I sometimes wonder how much better the world would be if we funded for nations where they have ideology problems, where the ideologies are hateful, full of hatred.I wonder what would happen if we turned around and we helped pay for high school students, a boy and girl at each high school in that country to come to America for one year and don’t do it just once, but do it ten years in a row...I think ideologies can be countered by showing people a better education and hope for the future by learning how to get along with one another. And for all of our problems in our country, we’re probably still the best example of that in the world."

Look, I'm not one to bash a genuine desire to teach Arab kids how to use a computer or a monkey wrench. Lord knows the Middle East needs some TLC. But "hateful" is just an emotive word, its purpose is only misdirection. It depicts nothing but Mattis' own goals. To him, and everyone in the US, hate is something other people feel. Mattis doesn't hate anybody. He's the one dropping 500-pound bombs of love while ISIS straps vests of hatred onto 18-year-olds.

You see, from the perspective of power, it doesn't matter what you think or believe, so long as you act in the required direction. You could be the nastiest, most disgusting human blowing up children, but if you act towards the default assumptions, you're good to go, baby. Again, it's not ISIS terrorism that drives Mattis to call the Wahabist ideology "hateful," it's that the goal of ISIS is to remake the world into one Caliphate in which nation-state and democratic ideals are cancelled and replaced by theocratic leaders answerable to no-one but God and other members of the priestly caste.

To Mattis, not only is ISIS not acting in the required direction, it behoves him to organise a programme both to kill everyone who thinks like the extremists and to compel or steal via "refugee" programmes the children of this broken region to travel to the US and undergo re-education in its esteemed universities. What he won't tell you, because he can't see it himself, is that the purpose of those universities - as with churches and temples in times past - is not education but cadre. These institutions churn out compliance first and skills second. Which is why they're so powerful.

Mattis believes everyone in the future will learn how to "get along." Duh, that's the end-goal of every hegemonic structure. What might surprise him is ISIS wants to do this as well. Both vectors sum for the same result. They are each in the world-eating business, and they know it too.

And you can see this thought pattern and strategy at work again in Mattis' description of the "Iran problem":

"So his idea on the way to do it was through education. I think that’s probably the most enduring way. Other things are shorter term and certainly, they can work for short term, but if you want to really change it in the long term, I think it comes down to doing so through education of the young people...Until the Iranian people can get rid of this theocracy, these guys who think they can tell the people even which candidates they get a choice of."

Did you feel a chill in the room, or is it just me? "Until the Iranian people can get rid of..." Who does Mattis think he's kidding? He's the one who told us to read history. Well, I've read plenty of Iran/US history, and it says right there in the textbooks how the US, France and all the other progressive, socialist countries have been balls deep in Iran for decades. Pushing and pulling the Iranian people to rise up against whatever regime the West thinks is evil today is a pastime activity in Washington. Miles Copeland, the forerunner of the CIA, boasted about standing outside mosques in Tehran handing $US100 bills to anyone who would yell "down with the Shah!"

And now we're supposed to believe, according to Mattis, that when the Iranian people start to peep and squeak about democracy and ridding themselves of meddlesome priests, it's all their idea. Like the Iranians magically came to the same governmental conclusion as the US and France, all on their own, that the best form of society is one built by progressive democracy? Give me a break.

The US is just playing firefighter with gasoline again. It awaits only a spark, which Washington will no doubt say was kindled by the desperate Iranians crying out for freedom. And as it rushes to provide that very freedom, dragging along those dripping firehoses, it will quickly slip the matches back inside its pocket. Ahh, Washington, I see those matches...

"The Iranian people are not the problem. The Iranian people are definitely not the problem, it’s the regime that sends agents around to murder ambassadors in Pakistan or in Washington DC. We’ve got to make certain that the Iranian people know that we don’t have any conflict with them. I’d start with that. 
"There are moderate regimes in the Middle East. The king of Jordan, clearly a moderating influence. The Emirates, the United Arab Emirates, I think almost a quarter of their ministers, what we would call secretaries of departments, are women...There’s a carrying capacity in any society for how much change it can incorporate at any one time."

Couldn't have said it better myself, Jim.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Cyber-security in the preformalist market-state

Chasing some of New Zealand’s smartest cyber-security minds around Israel last week, it was clear that governance – the provision of basic services, such as security, sewers, water, electricity, roads, internet and so on – is a job best performed by a single institution.

Even regulatory services making sure restaurants don’t put rat poison in my food work best when they’re insourced rather than outsourced. But who says this single institution needs to be a national government? Because in the looming market-state, it may not be.

What strikes me as a barbaric survival from an age of mystical nonsense is the giant nation-state. It seems outdated in a world of near-complete information flow and globalisation. If there is any justice in history, future generations will regard the difference between government and the state as the difference between liver and liver cancer. The tendency of both cancer and the state is to grow. And cancer can’t be cured by reforming it.

As this preformalist market-state emerges, it must be remembered to enforce a strict separation between law enforcement and education. Both are absolutely necessary but, if they are connected, a theocratic state emerges. This is exactly what we live in now, although it worships humanity rather than anthropomorphised supernatural entities.

According to author Philip Bobbitt, the legitimacy of the nation-state depends on how well it can deliver on the terms of the constitutional order under which it operates. The authority of the nation-state is based on the state offering to improve the material well-being of its people in exchange for power. On the other hand, the market-state maximises material well-being in exchange for power.

The slow transition is most clear in cyber-security. And in its desperation to fix the cyber threat, national governments turned to something civil servants don’t fully understand – business. Corporations now seem to be performing an ever-growing number of basic social functions, including security. This isn't unique in history. Recall that the East India Company owned a military and was used as a tool of London.

What’s happening in cyberspace is significant because the primary job of any government is the provision of security for its citizens. So, if national governments are abdicating this fundamental role over to business, then are they really worthy of being called ‘government’ anymore? The important question is: How did we get from there to here?

The problem isn't necessarily that businesses are shouldering the role of security. After all, order is order no matter which government supplies it. The problem is those who are criminally minded will see an opportunity to adopt the symbols of business as cover for action. Power is never static but the newly powerful must be formalised. Any ambiguity and irresponsibility in this process will only lead to chaos.

Don’t misunderstand me: There are many good cyber-security companies. But it doesn’t mean each is trustworthy. Think about the access these companies are being given, legitimately, to conduct “penetration tests” and peer into clients' operations, map those networks and monitor staff movement – at work and at home. All the while knowing exactly what vulnerabilities exist and providing “solutions” for the client.

National governments know they can't deal with the cyber threat. They are too unwieldy, don’t own the networks and will be permanently late to need. But why should these companies be trusted to map our networks? Most people wouldn’t let governments into their networks without a warrant, so why are companies allowed? They even get paid for it.

Because power in the new market-state is not yet formalised for cyber-security but instead exists in a strange state of “almost,” where is the incentive for companies to solve the problem? Why would they fix the digital gaps when they alone have the power - but not the responsibility - to locate new threats at will, or to hide those threats?

The reason to find and formalise the actual power structure in a preformalist society such as this is that in informal power structures people put a lot of effort into struggling for power. The struggle for power leads only to chaos, not order. And no one ever said anything good about chaos.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Retribution and punishment in Israel and Palestine

Both sides in Israel and Palestine have their wizened, bearded old men admonishing their followers with upturned finger. Everyone gives them far too much respect and credibility. What is a Jewish state to an Arab? What is a Palestinian state to a Jewish settler. In both cases, the answer is "screwed."

The purpose of punishment is not to dissuade others from doing something, it is retribution and retaliation for the crime. And it is stupid. The eye-gouged victim gets nothing by having her attacker maimed. It might work if his eyes were transplanted into her head, but that would just be compensation. The reason "eye for an eye" is senseless and barbaric is the attacker does have a reason. One that made sense to him. Perhaps she rejected his offer of marriage. Maybe that was an insult, or it broke his heart. But it is a reason.

Justice demands he be maimed, but he thinks the punishment is unjustified because it didn't take into account his reason. Remember that the villain is the hero of his own story. Now he feels further wronged and wants to retaliate.

Multiply the victims and attackers by several million, stretch the chain to over 70 years (at minimum), toss in religious or ethnic bigotry to make it unclear when the first wrong occurred and against whom, and the result is this intractible conflict. With the toxic logic of retribution, why shouldn't the victims in Gaza be entitled to the eyes of the Israelis who attacked them?

Retribution and retaliation are childish, primitive and barbaric methods of punishment. Burning the attacker's eyes isn't going to change the essential social inequality. Punishment isn't supposed to deter the criminal, it is supposed to deter crime. The modern criminal justice system protects society from the criminal. This is why, by definition, there are no victimless crimes. The system which passed the law is the victim.

The courts in Palestine are functioning as a state-run hitman, nothing more. There is no justice involved. It may be a system, but it is not a system of justice. But the alternative is anarchy or mob rule, in which each member of the mob tries to outdo their cohorts in meting out gruesome punishments.

The justice system in Israel is imperfect, but it is orders of magnitude less imperfect than the individuals operating in that system. It constrains everyone and filters out the rage, vengeance, prejudice and bias. Even judges from the bench sometimes lament that they would like to expand or reduce punishment but that the law constrains them. However flawed, this system is able to maintain a moral authority.

The problem is not how to bring the rest of the Middle East places into the modern era. During the 50's and 60's in Afghanistan, for instance, women attended universities without covering up. In pre-revolution Iran, men and women socialised openly. The problem is how did the feudal patriarchy re-assert itself?

In the last half-century, whatever poor and exploited remained in these countries during their brief modern eras was allowed to fester. Into that wound a radical ideology found an opening to point out the "decadence" of their countryfolk. The critical flaw wasn't the traditionalists, it was in modernity failing to mount an effective counterargument. Westernisation meant money and the good life, but that's also how the underclass was defining decadence.

The real argument, as it always must be, should be that modernity is the true embodiment of the local culture and that the radical element is the corrupting agent. Orthodox Jews believe they are the true Jews of Israel and everyone else is decadent or lapsed. Yet it shouldn't surprise anyone that they exploit and marginalise women, physically abuse children and enforce layers upon layers of patriarchal authority.

The orthodox Jewish community has more in common with the radical Islamic community it fears and reviles than with mainstream Israeli society in Tel Aviv. The difference is that Tel Avivians consider themselves to be the embodiment of Jewish culture too, a culture which includes the rabbinical traditions, but also the secular traditions science, philosophy and art.

The history and religion of the Jewish people demand their state be in the land of their ancestors, in the land to which they were bound by a covenant between themselves and their Creator. This is a quote from a book, but it is precisely this turn of phrase that complicates things. History and religion cannot make demands. Only living people can make demands. History does not exist in any real sense. It's a story shaped by the teller to suit the present time. Where can I go to find 18th century Vienna?

And remember: there is no title deed for countries. There is no international court to adjudicate this dispute and no world police to enforce it. Yes, the Israelis took land away from Arabs. Yes, it was wrong. No, they aren't getting it back. That's reality. They have land claims - fine. To whom do they present those claims? The government that took them in the first place?

There is no international legal authority. The UN is not a world congress, it can't make law. Parties can sign treaties, and they can break them. It happens all the time. Arguing about old claims is pointless because it doesn't matter who is correct. The only thing that matters is who is sitting on the land now and whether they can be persuaded or forced to share or leave.

Most Israelis say they are happy to share the country with Arabs, but the entrenched power interests probably are not, even though they are in the minority. Palestinians would also rather work and live in Israel than overthrow the government and replace it with a country resembling Jordan.

Both sides look for an epiphany, pouring over faded texts in ruins of deserts as if some previously unknown connection will make all the pieces fit together. They still want to connect the religious texts to the historical record, but why? Is there some subconscious belief that historic accuracy makes them spiritually accurate to the extent that the supernatural is real? Do people really want to believe so badly they subconsciously look for evidence of God?

People are killing each other over this piece of dirt because the parties are the same as each other. This forever-war is a bilateral attempt to forge an identity where none would properly exist. For each side, possessing the land makes their prophecy, their revelation, their identity more accurate and more real than the other's.

Each side uses its children to kill the other side's children for the right to put their stern and sanctimonious long-bearded old men into the temple to God, which, if he/it exists, most definitely does not exist in a manner either side could ever comprehend.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Twilight of Chomsky’s foreign policy

I may be the only person who watched the now-famous “Justice vs. Power” Chomsky-Foucault debate and realised how much of a charlatan Noam Chomsky actually is. Michel Foucault not only won the debate, he won the rest of the twentieth century Baudrillard didn’t capture.

And ol’ Baldy continues to rack up points well into this Ritalin-addled twenty-first century. Chomsky contents himself with packing out meetings of the Socialist Student Union in every private university kids attend when they can’t get into to Ivy Leagues. On linguistics, Chomsky is unquestionably brilliant, but on politics, he has always sounded like a teenager.

This guiding light of the I-hate-my-daddy contingent of the unemployable political left continues to argue with sophomoric equivalency that the US in its conduct of the War on Terror should be governed by standards of international law. This is gross anti-intellectualism. The world should be fair and equal, and that’s that. It is not an argument, it is a belief without foundation in evidence.

Noam Chomsky
The problem is that it doesn’t hold anyone else to this standard (except arguably for Israel). When you point out people’s hypocrisy, don’t forget about the casualty-producing systems. If you focus on only one system, as Chomsky does, you can’t really claim any standard other than hatred of that system. He’s no more limited to criticising the US than he is limited to criticising his own family or the whole world. Those are both systems he’s a part of, but he doesn’t feel limited to them.

This comes down to two issues: the role of principles in the formation of policy, and the perpetual inability of the left to articulate a concrete platform for a future society. Without attention to whether one’s actions follow one’s principles, you leave yourself open to not only charges of hypocrisy but outright hostility.

But here’s the thing. There is no “international law.” There is no universally acknowledged sense of anything except hunger and gravity. There is only one rule: the most powerful make the rules, and every nation has to follow those rules except the most powerful.

This exception is part of the rule. It’s the most important part of the rule. It says when Country A invades Country B, the US Marine Corps can take over both countries until Halliburton arrives and ensures it won’t cost the New Zealand taxpayer $75 to drive a Japanese import to the Warehouse for “quality” goods made by the most skilled child-labourers global capitalism can provide.

Chomsky and others on the left call this “exceptionalism.” Exceptionalism is bad, you see, because it’s unfair. Everyone should be held to the same standard. Everybody should have to follow the rules, including (and especially) the US. But these people only bring up exceptionalism when they can score cheap points by crying “hypocrisy!”

What is exceptionalism? Exceptionalism is why the unemployment rate in the US, France, Germany, Japan and New Zealand is between 5-9%, but in Spain and Greece – where people are rioting – it’s approaching 15-25%. Exceptionalism is the first set’s ability to play with the global economy while citizens of other countries bear the brunt of any mistakes.

If the US was held to the same standard the conditions of most of Chomsky’s listeners (the 98% who think the top 2% should pay more taxes) would revert to that of Eastern Europeans. But if fair is fair and right is right, then they should just wait. The global economy is due for another recession soon.

Let me rephrase the one and only rule of international law: whoever has the guns and the money gets to make, break and enforce the rules. That is not my opinion of what the rule should be. That’s what the rule is. It is a property of nature based on thousands of years of historical evidence. It is as immutable as the laws of physics. Failure to acknowledge it is a mark of insanity.

But still, Chomsky grinds on: “We should be treated like we treat others.” He plays the “should” game. The world should be like this. The government should do that. That’s why he’s still so popular in the age of Trump with a crowd that has no skin in the game. It’s easy to dictate terms without accountability.

Progressives have historically been very good at critique and awful at implementation. Ascribe the evils of the world to control, institutions, the Panopticon or whatever, but at some point, there needs to be a plan that’s more than “tear it all down.” Most small utopian communities are either too obscure to inspire or die in their cradles from infighting. Chomsky should focus on pragmatic, constructive efforts rather than generating reams of paper cataloguing the failures of modern society.

And I would be remiss if I failed to point out that there’s a reason why left’s systems seem fascist: because they have to be fascist in order to implement the systems. Fighting fascism means reducing government, not pushing for more of it. This is Tolkien’s lesson. Any system that requires a great degree of government control is, (almost) by definition, fascist, which is the same thing as progressive but with a “for the people” stuck on the end of the state motto.

Ol' Baldy: Michel Foucault
Chomsky could not come to terms with reality. Foucault lived reality. Foucault was very much about getting to the bottom of what is. And though he found the same state Chomsky did – language and media as instruments of social control – Foucault found much more. He flourished in the idea of total dominance by power. He explored and dissected it, holding up its organs for all to see. You can see it in this passage:

The proletariat doesn’t wage war against the ruling class because it considers such a war to be just. The proletariat makes war with the ruling class because, for the first time in history, it wants to take power. And because it will overthrow the power of the ruling class it considers such a war to be just…One makes war to win, not because it is just…it seems to me that the idea of justice in itself is an idea which in effect has been invented and put to work in different types of societies as an instrument of a certain political and economic power or as a weapon against that power.

And yet the trouble with Foucault is that he demands a brutal and total acceptance of reality and a suspicion of everything else. After all, any illusion of what should be may simply be an internalised expression of the State’s control over you. So you must never say should. You must only see and, if possible, take some power for yourself.

With Chomsky, all that’s necessary to understand international relations is to reverse and flip every word uttered by the great academic. So for that reason alone, he is useful to read. Foucault died long before the world proved him right. Chomsky has lived long enough to have learned better. And yet still he persists. What’s that word for people who do the same thing over and over expecting a different result…

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Climate change and the beast of consumerism

It might sound strange, but climate change is deeply geopolitical. What will sound even stranger is that the reason it is geopolitical is because business is involved. It is important to see how its inclusion is actually a defence against change. Companies know this, which is why they offered to help.

Consumerism is a beast, a global beast, far more powerful than any mere government and perhaps Gaia herself. A business response to any problem will always be to merge product with identity and lifestyle, to keep everything exactly where it is.

It must do this because obtaining energy from solar or wind is far more expensive than getting it from fossil fuels. The ethics part is pure marketing and spin. It is postmodern: Buy this product and a portion of the proceeds will go to a charity which stands opposed to the damage caused by that same product. The response is an attempt to integrate forgiveness for consumption into the act of consumption itself.

Business needs to be absolutely modern about climate change. It must acknowledge the inherent shortcomings of a consumer society. Any solution lies in science and careful social progress. The consumer society is being replaced by a social society, where people base their lives on the actions they take and not the goods they buy. People need to stop being alienated from each other and forced together creating a gross asymmetry between the consumer choice and its social alternative.

No, this doesn’t mean more immigration. It means public transportation should be free, paid for by astronomically high petrol taxes, vehicle taxes and road tolls. This would force a social choice to see cars as inferior and lead to their use being discouraged. The problem is not in discarding the car – which is the greatest symbol of personal freedom ever devised. The problem is in evolving modern society away from consumerism, which is what a car really represents. Business cannot do this.

The need is obvious. Infrastructure wouldn’t be expensive to maintain if people refused to buy junk they don't need. The junk wouldn’t arrive from China at ports, wouldn’t get transferred to rail cars then to articulated trailers headed on long haul highways. And none of that junk would land in grotesque shopping malls, all of which require a snake pit of roads, junctions and overpasses.

New lightbulbs aren’t enough, they are the problem. A radical social choice is needed to eliminate the illusory freedoms provided by consumerism (the false choice among commodities for which a need is created artificially by the dominant ideology) and elevate true freedom (the freedom from the anxieties of basic human survival). The penalties of consumption must be integrated into the consumption itself, forcing people to act with full understanding of the consequences.

Sure, one complaint may be that institutions shouldn’t be co-opted by wealthy corporations. But those institutions were never really democratic. They aren't supposed to be. The Western model was predicated on the assumption that the voter, the fundamental unit of democracy, was a wealthy educated landowner. It assumes the wealthy elite doesn't need to influence the government by way of back channels because only the wealthy elite can elect the government in the first place.

From this perspective, anything that falls short is a defective compromise. The radical’s greatest opponent is not the conservative, but the liberal. Because the liberal is the pleasant face of a dominant mythology. Anything short of radical transformation leaves some aspect of the old system intact. And as history shows, eventually, the old system grows and spread like cancer to take over the entire edifice.

If it’s true such a social change is required due to climate change, it needs to be accepted that the great adventures of capitalism are now entirely out of the question. The egalitarian, dignified society doesn’t send people to the moon – desperate consumerist hegemonies do. Those adventures are trying to prop up deteriorating myths with grand and magnificent spectacles.

The consumer society produces as its consequence the art factories in Hollywood and New York because it industrialises everything, including the production of art. Consumerism eats even philosophy, turning it into new goods. Philosophies are supposed to compete, but consumerism is different. Humans have not yet discovered a philosophy powerful enough to attack consumerism and survive productisation. But doing this is the only way climate change can be assuaged.

Rest assured that the hobbled compromise with consumerism that is liberal democracy will ultimately supply free healthcare and universal basic wages, but it will also ensure citizens have to use them. It will create doctors so it can make us sick. It will sell affordable insurance so it can sell us sexy unsafe cars.

It will produce the trendy sustainable and “green” object and be there to collect it from the garbage after it sells the counter-trendy “green” object. It will treat society towards a boom so it can enjoy the bust. Consumerism will make sure people are rich enough to desire things they don't have, but poor enough that some things are always outside their reach.

So we have to pick. The choice is between a radical restructuring of modern society or continued ruthless global consumerism upholstered in postmodern liberal democracy. If climate change is a reality business cannot be the answer. Consumerism will eat the movement – it already has – morphing it into a product to feed the beast.

The choice is between a poverty of consumer choices on the one hand and the poverty of the consumerist life on the other. Those are the only two choices. The religious fundamentalists and the fascists are merely reactionaries. Their problem, quite literally, is that they find the global environmentalist’s lack of faith in their own ideals disturbing.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

The doomed dark alliance of progressives and Islamists

In the last three months, the UK has suffered three high-profile terror attacks. It would be the easy to push them aside and “carry on,” which is the code word for “get on board with the plan." But that explains nothing. And these attacks need explanation.

It's not the constant attacks bothering people, it's the lack of a counterattack. Sure, the British military is fighting overseas, but it has always been at war with East Asia, I mean, the Islamic State. Apologies, my fiction sometimes leaks into reality...

But no matter how much our rulers deny the agency of Islamists, the jihadists know something many Britons don’t: they are locked in a game of power. Until this reality is understood, every move by those justifiably concerned by terrorism will be the wrong one.

Terrorism is a ring of power. And the problem with forging rings of power is they tend to slip from one's finger. While it's tempting to organise special powers to benefit a cause, no one can be in power forever. And in their fight for control, the progressives built a jewellery shop. They didn't learn Tolkien's lesson: the thing to do with power is destroy it, not wield it. And now the Islamists have the ring.

Terrorism isn’t complicated. Terrorism is anarchism: a shattering of order. Islamic terrorism (which is in every case left-wing – as you can see every time Osama quotes Chomsky) is productive because it results in increasing communal deference to the Islamic community and expansion of the political power and privilege of Muslims and their progressive sponsors.

Terrorism works in a democracy because political action is the capture of the psychologies of the power base (the population) to prefer one form of democracy over another. Placards and door-knocking are both fine, but violent action is not only allowed, it is expected.

Think of it like this. If there is no terrorism at a particular time, either the democratic ideology that benefits the most from terrorism is so overwhelmed by the power structure, or that ideology actually has power. In other words, the terrorist succeeds when, and only when, he is allied to an interested third party or political force.

Another thing to consider is those terrorists in the UK were second or third generation Britons. This is not unexpected. Children of Islamic communities in the UK have been taught about democracy from day one and now wish to boost Islamic values through democratic activism. To do this, they utilise a leftist tactic to compel the system to bend to their demands. That deserves an A+.

This is how the democratic system works, nothing is broken. To defeat terrorism, democracy must be removed, not Muslims, and order restored. Either that or Muslims are allowed to succeed in shifting society and taking control over the machinery of government. I know this is true because it has been done before – by the progressives themselves.

So why can’t progressives, who control Western government and used both terrorism and free speech to gain this power, recognise what’s happening? They are paranoid about a return of the white middle-class and ancien regime, the historic domestic enemy of the scholar caste – an enemy that quite simply no longer exists. A husky shell of its former self.

The other problem is progressives don't enjoy thinking of themselves as rulers because that would mean that a) the revolution is finished and b) they must mature into an aristocracy and shoulder the responsibility of governance. They don’t seem to realise there are only three fundamental versions of human government: aristocracy, monarchy and democracy.

Democracy is useful to undermine a power structure but never for permanent governance. Democracy evolves into aristocracy, which in turn becomes a monarchy – the default system of government. (Nation-states are probably a bizarre historical blip and will likely devolve into city-states eventually, a far more manageable structure. But that's another story.)

The paramount question for modern rulers is: what should we do with all these people? There also wouldn’t be much point to ruling without wealth, so how can rulers ensure GDP growth? For the UK and Europe, the importation of millions of adult Muslim males is a rational but misguided policy to answer both questions at once.

From the system’s perspective, immigrants are batteries, meant to produce and consume, and keep the GDP ticking ever upwards. Of course, if the British people had been encouraged to breed instead, none of this would be necessary. But since the white middle-class is a political threat to the ruling progressive scholar caste, natural population growth was replaced by immigration on the assumption that immigrants can be controlled with welfare money and the odd political concession.

The white middle-class traded feigned (and sometimes sincere) belief in the progressive ideology in return for safety and prosperity. They were willing to put up with the deconstruction of traditions, to accept gender-neutral bathrooms and recite the hymns of human equality if only they could get on with their lives in peace and security. But they were lied to.

Progressives are funny creatures. Brexit and Trump aren't harbingers of an old aristocracy creeping back. They are a consequence of progressives refusing to take responsibility once they took power. Permanent revolution is not a recipe for sound governance. Chaos must at some point form into order, or the whole show collapses and no one gets to rule.

Because of their paranoia, progressives took the rational step to allow Islamists to terrorise the white middle-class with near impunity (for instance, with the Rotherham rape gangs because those girls are the daughters and sisters of the men who pose an actual threat to progressive rule). This is simple mathematics. Terrorism and crime keep one’s political enemies thinking about their safety, not political change.

But progressive rulers have missed one crucial fact: Muslims have agency. Progressives can’t seem to see that the Islamists are using terrorism not to be represented within the existing system, but to collapse and replace it with Sharia.

If the Islamists succeed, they won't let the progressives remain in power simply because of leftist virtue. Arabs aren't like the US imports from sub-Saharan Africa. They bring an ancient ideology, dreaming for a thousand years about global domination – just like their Christian siblings.

While the progressives promised change but only took power, Muslims want actual change and power. To them, the democratic process is a means to eviscerate the system from within. It appears no amount of "just love each other" will stop this, the only answer is the imposition of order.

Eisenhower said the plan will always fail catastrophically. It is planning that matters most. Janissaries begin as tools, but end as executioners. It didn’t work in Ottoman Turkey, and it won’t work now.

The plan will fail. Might makes right and no amount of rhetorical warping will bend reality. It might be “nice” to believe everyone is good and that people are made, not born. But strong responsibility and order must be introduced. If progressives will not do it, then the Islamists will. There is no such thing as an alliance between competing power structures.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Why progressives hate freedom of speech

I've noticed a transmogrification of free speech. The violent protests at the University of Berkely, California, the historical bastion of free speech and open debate, was a major example of speech being confined to the Official Truth or the Big ShutUp, as Mark Steyn says. Something has shifted.

People seem confused that progressives want to ban free speech when they championed it only a handful of decades ago. Yet from a framework of postmodernism, the debate is a tool of oppression. Accepting free speech risks "normalising" opposing ideas, creating a default assumption that because both sides are speaking, therefore the ideas are worth talking about. In the culture wars, this sneaky reasoning was necessary to undermine the establishment. But now that the progressives own government, free speech is "problematic." Hmmm.

Simply put, free speech is no longer useful for the "correct side of history." When the various revolutionary movements began in the 18th century, they held a single goal of deconstructing the existing order to replace it with a more equitable regime.

The establishment at the time was broadly monarchical and clerical, in which status is conferred by birth, breeding and personal character, with wealth serving as a prerequisite but not a mark of actual distinction. Oh, and it was heavily Christian.

In fact, precisely because the establishment system was built from Christian assumptions, the revolutionary ideologues (who were themselves built from Christian assumptions) employed the Christian concept of truth above all else as a major weapon. Other Christian or Greek concepts such as freedoms of assembly and speech, humanitarian ideals and the "last will be first" were integral to the messages of the Jacobins, Georges Eugène Sorel, Karl Marx, etc. The fight was between traditional Christians and progressive Christians from day one, competing for control over the Christian machinery of power.

In a monarchy, most people just get on with their lives. Power politics occurs between elites in the capital. Sure, sometimes people are drafted to fight in a king's war. But no monarch goes to war because he wants to, he goes to war because he has to. Anything remotely resembling total war for ideological domination is out of the question. The Treaty of Westphalia and Classical International Law limited those horrors even further. Every king must stick to his own patch.

But in a democracy, a peasant may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in him. It's not who you support, but which version of democracy. And so it goes. A democracy is only secure when the entire world bends to its will. Today, the most successful mainline Protestant sect today is the Unitarian progressives, aka state-transcendentalists or socialists.

There are few doctrinal differences between secularists, nontheistic Unitarians, theistic Unitarians, and for that matter all the Protestant sects described as “mainline.” But, since I am not a Christian but a dead Chinese philosopher, the divinity of this or that, or the validity of ritual X or Y, does not really concern me. What concerns me is following Stalin's principle: Who? Whom?

The best way I can describe what's going in is that the progressive version of Christianity is in near total control of the system of Western Christian power constructed over 2000 years. How did this happen?

After defeating the other two major forms of Christian democracy -- German fascism and Soviet Communism -- the American progressives were the last ideology left standing in 1991. They were so close to achieving total psychological capture over the planet. For ten years in the 90s, they stood unopposed using the official press (mainstream media) to align every country on earth.

But then the internet was invented.

This created a parallel information organ the progressives could not control. Not because they didn't want to, but because the machinery of government the progressives had just taken over lacked the access and tools to capture and utilise this new internet structure. The only moves it has are attempts to introduce oversight and regulation. Progressives want to abolish online anonymity, forcing their enemies into the offline world where their government power still exists. Following the recent terror attacks in London, UK Prime Minister Theresa May is trying again to do exactly this.

Put it down, Boromir
"We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed. Yet that is precisely what the internet and the big companies that provide internet-based services provide," she says.

Mrs May is not stupid. She knows success in a democracy depends on who controls the information organs. The Gutenberg press in 1440 started a trend to undermine the information dominance of divine-right monarchs and clergy and usher in a world of democratic totalitarianism in which the newspaper organised everyone (acting in the required direction).

The internet is simply a natural evolution of the Gutenberg press. Mrs May's attempt is futile, but at least it's comprehensible and rational from a perspective of power. She knows the internet is undermining democracy itself.

But anonymity is a feature of the internet, not a bug. It will never be expunged. So the next best tactic is to equate the use of free speech with Nazis. People have been trained well enough not to miss the significance of this. Everyone learns at school, written and directed by progressive true-believers, that fascism is the embodiment of evil. Not necessarily because Nazism was uniquely horrifying but because fascist democracy is a direct competitor to progressive democracy. Rule number one for rulers: crush your enemies.

So today, anyone who defends free speech is considered a threat to the progressive regime and must be silenced. The ring of power called "free speech" wielded by the progressives to undermine their historical enemies.

But as Tolkien predicted, the problem with forging rings of power is they tend to slip from one's finger. While it's tempting to organise special powers to benefit a cause, no one can be in power forever. And the modern state is a virtual jewellery shop. The progressives didn't learn Tolkien's lesson: the thing to do with power is to destroy it, not wield it. And now their enemies have the ring.

The revolutionaries started out with a righteous goal of changing the status quo to be more equitable. Weapons were assembled and rings were forged. But they didn't want change, only power, just like any hominid. They were tricked by their own greed. And all their supporters believed real change was coming, only to find themselves back under subjugation by new rulers.

Yet the internet has exploded a white hot ball of power into a million pieces. Those who can scrape up a piece will never have to scrape again. Where once freedom of speech was a weapon to achieve victory, it is now a threat to that victory. The progressives have no one else to blame but themselves. They threw away their ring as they climbed onto the throne.

“And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth. And for two and a half thousand years, the ring passed out of all knowledge,” warned Galadriel.

Now it has been found.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Donald Trump, climate science is not the science you're looking for

Theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss spoke in Auckland recently. He gave an hour-long sermon drawn from the "Doomsday Clock" document published by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, of which he is a sponsor and chairman.

I think it's fair to say Dr Krauss doesn’t like US President Donald Trump. It's not clear if the feeling is mutual, but the scientist probably appreciates the 45th President even less after this week. Climate change is high on Dr Krauss' list of deadly, dangerous and downright dynamic developing disasters dooming Donald’s domain.

I didn’t watch Mr Trump abandon the Paris Agreement on television, but I hear the speech was mostly good with some small inaccuracies, notably about how staying in the agreement would only reduce global temperatures by two-tenths of one degree Celsius. It’s actually more like a six-tenths of one degree by 2100, for a cost of $100 trillion. That’s trillion, with a “T.” And only if everyone in the agreement sticks to it.


Mr Trump's little temperature hiccup is a pity because when you stand up against the Machine one needs to be right all the time, not just most of the time. According to Dr Krauss, the science is in. And his Bulletin editor-in-chief John Mecklin agrees “the science is clear” saying “Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change has no basis in fact.”

But none of this squabbling helps to see what's actually gone wrong. To do that, we need to split three things apart: the science, the politics in Washington and the international politics. Of course, the mere need to split these three indicates that they are, in normal circumstances, very much joined. Which should raise red flags.

International politics is downstream from Washington politics, which in turn is informed by academics. To scientists, Mr Trump isn’t simply acting politically he is directly countermanding their authority. But who are they? By what means did they achieve positions of authority? It certainly wasn't democracy. And do their disciplines use the wonderful error-correcting quality of Popperian science? Or has this been, in some way, neutralised or bypassed? Was it never there in the first place? These are good questions.

The problem, as I see it, is twofold. First, empirical evidence is not experimental evidence. Nature is not a controlled experiment. For the perils of uncontrolled experiments, see Richard Feynman. It's also worth pausing to consider that the Lysenkoists also called their work "science."

Unless one adopts a tautology -- in which science does not include pseudoscience -- "science" is whatever the people who practice and organise it say it is. More specifically, since pretty much all "science" is funded by the government, the working definition of "science" tends to wash out as "whatever my government decides to fund and calls science." No, I don't like this either.

This all boils down to the circular statement that climatology can't possibly be pseudoscience because it's funded by the US Government. And Washington (unlike Moscow) would never fund pseudoscience. This is a rather broken epistemology, to say the least.

Do I have it right? If not, where's the error? If so, what information do you have about the US Government that justifies trust? And if Washington isn't to be trusted, what institution is? The IPCC? What makes you trust those humans instead? If the field of climate science as we see it today was not scientific, but rather pseudoscientific, how would you know? And who would you expect to step in and shut it down? Again, all good questions.

Imagine if we had a couple of toy Earths to experiment with. Scientists could isolate all the variables and set different CO2 concentrations on otherwise identical planets. Compared to the results of those experiments, climate science's present "empirical" evidence looks pretty lame, I think. In fact, anyone who could perform such a controlled experiment, but chose not to, and instead relied on the natural experiment of driving our SUVs while maintaining full employment of an enormous contingent of climate scientists, would be immediately, and quite accurately, described as a pseudoscientist.

Second, most people criticising Mr Trump appear to be misinformed about the nature of science. They are under the impression that scientists are motivated by curiosity and the pursuit of truth. This has never entirely been the case, but perhaps they used to be motivated by such things before we decided scientists should have money and power. Or, more accurately, before we decided that science should be part of the State.

The problem is not just government funding. The problem is the triangular relationship between granting agencies, scientists and the press.

A good rule of thumb is that anyone whose name appears regularly in the media is a media prostitute. Think of all the scientists whose names you know because you see them in newspapers. I'm sure they're all good people doing wonderful work. But they are all prostitutes. Including Dr Krauss.

To the vast majority of scientists, far more than journals (because no one reads those anyway) they deeply desire their work to be published in the most powerful journal in the world: the New York Times. This makes perfect sense because all power flows upward. Also, those granting agencies are organs not just of the State, but of the political system. They have to fight like hell to get their cash. There is never enough money to go around. So in this system, funding is directly proportional to the quantity of headline space their prostitutes can score. If it wasn't so insidious, I'd be impressed.

Journalists, in turn, can't get enough. And why wouldn't they? They are the controllers of the universe. They stick out their fingers and they alone go bang. Who cares if the average science reporter has only an undergraduate degree? Has the average business reporter ever worked for a real business? Has the average war reporter ever fought in a war? Would these reporters suddenly be "objective" if they had done these things? Ignorance, as usual, turns out to be wisdom.

And just as there is never enough money to go around, there are never enough stories. Climate change is marvellous because it generates a permanent stream of content-free, but not quite monotonous, press. Observant scientists figured out long ago that finding a way to work "climate change" into any kind of research almost guarantees their chances of getting funded. So, of course, climate change appears everywhere (I thought it was the whisky keeping me up at night...).

Obviously, climate change is not the cutting edge of science. The cutting edge of science doesn't look like such a joke. That's because those scientists know what they're doing. Sure, there’s plenty of "empirical evidence" for climate change. But it is also all generated by researchers who are operating under the same set of incentives that brought us "Global Warming Could be Reversing a Trend that Led to Bigger Human Brains," which led to this insanity and therefore became true. An entirely predictable result.

The whole system is one giant conflict of interest. The only effect of the Paris Agreement appears to be to tax everyone and create more jobs for the scholar caste. It should not at all be surprising this caste has lifted climate change to such a glorious quasitheological status. My only worry is if the word "science" remains nested with Official Truth for much longer, it may have to be discarded. Then we’ll really see some power games.

I can't see any systematic fix for this. There’s far too much money to be made. The climate change industry is an academic fraud of mind-boggling proportions, so "solving" it is the last thing anyone wants to do.

But no matter what, I think it's simply unhealthy for scientists to take money from anyone who has an interest in steering their results. And that includes the State. In fact, it goes double, triple and quadruple for the State - which is not, contrary to popular belief, endowed with divine powers.

Scientists appear not to have applied their considerable critical energies to the problem of drawing the line between science and "science." How much of what we see as science, rather than "science," is the product of uncontrolled experiments or subjective judgments? And what would happen to Dr Krauss’ worldview if we shove it back over the line?

Friday, 2 June 2017

Is 'hacking back' really dangerous, or is something else going on

US Representative Tom Graves has a bill that would allow hacking victims to use defensive measures to strike back at their attackers. Called the Active Cyber Defense Certainty Act - which would alter the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act - the measure lets individuals and companies use defensive measures beyond their own network to identify, and potentially stop, assailants. The practice is commonly known as "hacking back."

However, US Cyber Command chief Admiral Mike Rogers warned lawmakers against passing such legislation, saying cyber-experts think hacking back will have unintended, dangerous consequences and create even more confusion about who's behind certain digital assaults.

"My concern is be leery of putting more gunfighters out on the street in the Wild West," Adm. Rogers told a House Armed Services subcommittee.

Adm. Rogers isn't the only one sceptical. Everyone seems to think there’s no way this would work. If you fire back, you might be hitting an old granny's computer in Thailand or something. Blah blah blah.

I can’t help being sceptical. Like, I get the technical realities and the criticism is probably real. But I know a turf war when I see it. The US government invented the internet and it got out of hand. Businesses took it away, tinkered with it, and now they won’t give it back. Governments are slowly realising the future of the world will be online, and they’ve effectively been locked out. Everyone bashes the NSA for “spying,” but almost no one worries about companies doing dodgy stuff with your info.

The only difference is people have a reason to be suspicious of governments, but not many philosophical reasons to be suspicious of industry. And the online companies such as Facebook and Google also have direct commercial access to the online news machine. They can bump up or down any story they want. So, of course, the NSA looks like the bad guy and Google looks like a saviour.

And to be honest, the threat of firing back and hitting an “innocent party” isn’t necessarily a limitation. We even have a name for it in the real world: collateral damage. Creating order is dangerous. The entirety of human history suggests it’s impossible to guarantee safety in times of chaos, and we definitely are in a period of chaos online right now. Furthermore, the threat of hitting an innocent party might actually force companies to take cyber-security seriously as it’ll be their bottom line at risk.

Besides, how bad can a misfire-back really be? It’s not like we’re shooting rifles or missiles. Who cares if someone’s computer goes down for a few hours or is taken offline permanently. Insurance can buy more computers. No one’s gonna die. And even if hospitals might be at risk, who said they needed to be online anyway

The biggest danger -- and this is where it really gets interesting -- is creating a scenario in which people decide that all this online stuff is too much of a hassle. Too much risk. The cyber criminals are a pain, but now everyone is actively defending themselves with cyber guns. Woah, slow down there DeadEye Jones. All anyone wants to do is send remittances to family in Tonga or sell a car on TradeMe or play a computer game or chat with a loved one in Spain.

But it all becomes too hard with the constant updates and downtime from attacks. So they log off. They choose to roll back the clock and use other forms of commerce, maybe not dark age methods, but certainly not 21st-century options. You can feel the system tremble even thinking about this. Or worse, someone decides to create a parallel internet so they don’t have these problems -- or at least fewer problems. Perhaps the alternative is an internet based on nation-state borders, as Russia and China are talking about implementing. Even the US Defense Department is discussing, and probably has already started building, a new internet for classified networks using all the lessons of the old internet. The internet is global, but it doesn’t have to be. That’s just the way it is now.

Suddenly, all that effort and money and capital spent to construct the online is wasted. Most of that money is illusory anyway. It’s not like it will just shift between people. Once you take it off the rich people and move it around, poof, it vanishes.

I think that’s the major threat here. It’s why neither governments nor companies are taking cyber-security seriously. The moment they tighten the screws, it becomes less of a global commons and more of a rigid, regulated system in which even the simplest tasks are tough and, quite frankly, not worth doing. After all, the consumer system doesn’t see you as a person, it sees you as a battery. The only thing you’re good for is producing and consuming. This system cannot be set at risk, there is too much money at stake. It will fight fiercely to avoid even approaching this outcome.

The system will even convince us that “the online world is inherently unstable and risky, and you just have to get used to all the cyber-threats.” Hmm, where have I heard that before? Oh yeah, the French prime minister Macron recently described terrorism as an “imponderable problem” which will be “part of our daily lives for the years to come.” He isn’t the only one. This logic is common with elites.

Maybe it’s just the way I am, but it all smells like power. Philip Bobbitt talks about this as a transition from the nation-state – in which it’s the government’s job to facilitate business, but to be in overall control – to a new form called the market state – in which the government’s job is to maximise business, and as a consequence forgo much of its power to the new global businesses. He sees this as a natural transition and doesn’t apply any ethical attributes to it. You don't have to look very hard to see this playing out vociferously in the online world.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

The shadow of Manchester and your choices

I have a question for parents.

What did you tell your kids after the Manchester bombing? What did you tell your boys?

If the conversation went something like this: "it's never ok to attack eight-year-olds. Why didn't they stop this?" you are pretending that the question “who can fix this” is more important than realising “I helped cause this.” No, that's not backwards, it's the only way out of this mess.

Do you really have no clue why this society is worth defending? Sure, some parts of Western history are pretty nasty, but there's a lot to be proud about. You think you're raising better kids, but you're only succeeding in being a better parent. If you don't see how those are different, your kids do.

To have a meaningful life requires having faith that every one of your actions really matters. Responsibility is a gift because freedom comes in two varieties: positive and negative. Freedom from and freedom to. Remember that next time some pretend adult yells about oppression. I'm paraphrasing a bit, but Nietzsche once wrote about this saying, "give me a why and I can endure any how." He knew meaning is proportional to responsibility. Your kids need to know this, more than anything else.

I was going to write about how terrorism in a democracy isn't a bug, it's a feature. Politics will always mirror demographics because violence and politics are on a continuum. I think it explains what's going on. But I realised it'd be using Islam as a hate symbol when the real target is democracy itself. The question is not how do we "get over" our prejudice of Islam, but what purpose does hating it serve in the first place, why is Islam the preferred expression of hate of this time?

Then I saw how every desperate explanation was only a deflection to get parents off the hook.

Forget about teaching kids what to love about Western culture, freedom of speech and blah, blah, blah. Why aren't children taught how to respect this culture? The barrier is only yourself. None of this is done because if the problem is Islam -- They's fault, external -- then parents can shrug and say "those damn radicals are at it again," and get back to drinking whisky at the gentleman's club while the nanny picks Alex up from soccer practice.

I get it. It's difficult/impossible to raise a child to be part of the system, yet also to teach him to fight against that system "sometimes." The only way to make kids understand there are legitimate times when they must operate outside the prevailing system is by teaching them that there are even higher systems. I don't specifically mean religion, but some kind of higher ethical duty. For lack of a better term, I'll call it a strong superego, which says, without needing to explicitly define every case, "there's a right and a wrong, and you know what it is." Don't worry, someone you would never choose in a million years will explain this to your kids. Or do you think the bomber in Manchester discovered the idea of shredding eight-year-olds on his own?

"Yeah, well, we just have to get used to terrorism now." Stop it. Listen to yourself. How much do you have to hate your kids to say something like that? The one job a government has is to protect its people. If it fails in this, Rousseau's social contract is broken and we're back to red in tooth and claw. Yet every civil servant will look on those mangled bodies and nod that they are doing good and insist their actions are beyond reproach. Madness.

Actually, not quite madness. But it's damn close. What killed those kids is the failure for each of us to understand just how insane and evil we really are. I can sense you pulling back from this, but every person has a shadow side, bubbling with negativity. "Everyone carries a shadow," Carl Jung wrote, "and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is." A person cannot have existential power over their psyche without its assimilation.

"I'm a good person, I am just making bad choices." Wrong. You're not a good person until you make good choices. Until then you are chaos. It's the easiest thing in the world to tell someone they're good. But it never seems to take. Something feels weak or missing. The thing about doing good is there should always be a doubt. There's no such thing as an unmitigated good action. No action is beyond reproach, regardless of how many people say it is.

Don't shake your head in wonderment at how a bomber can click the detonator in a crowded concert hall. Bow your head in reverence because it is a mirror. It can be you. It is you. Now embrace that understanding and set it down on one end of the spectrum outlining all possible human actions on this earth and never go there. Ever. Let that side gather dust. This is your only job in life.

Jung's point is simple: without embracing your shadow, how can you know your actions aren't close to that evil end of the spectrum? After all, no action is too horrific if Utopia is near. Anyone who doesn't agree is part of the problem and must be exterminated. All it takes for a person to justify terrible actions in a world where God is not dead, but enslaved, is a single instance of someone else saying "I don't condone what he/she did. But I understand." Without the embrace of your shadow, all actions are good and righteous, regardless of consequences. There is no reference point. No map pointing to where you are. To you, evil is something others do.

Your righteousness leads to desiring perverse absolution for a perceived history of civilisational crimes, an idea drawn from a Christian logic in which all people are equal and brothers.

So you open the borders wider.