Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Asking the God question backwards

Surely, to an atheist, the question whether god exists is meaningless. At least, I’m an atheist, and it strikes me as meaningless.

Considering all the weird-ass crazy ideas people have been murdered for in the last 200 years, “god” is not exactly high on the list. I realise 9/11 is very recent, but if you’re making arguments about time and eternity, you ought to have some perspective.

There are basically two kinds of Christians in the US: Unitarians who don’t believe in God or Hell or original sin and “born-again” Trinitarians who do. Historical denominations are meaningful for some of the latter and very few of the former. Of course, I generalise. 

Since the Unitarians, as previously mentioned, control basically all the institutions of power transmission, it seems a little strange for any self-professed rationalist to spend most of his time fretting about the relatively defunct Trinitarians. Again, it implies an unusual concern with this “God” thing relative to other confusions, which may be more potent or pertinent.

Note to anti-Catholics: the power of the Pope has been declining monotonically for oh, only about the last 500 years.

Note to anti-Protestants: the only First World country in which there is any significant relic of Protestant religious indoctrination is the US, and this assumes a very generous definition of “significant.” Born-again Christians in the US have the numbers, but they don’t have the power centres and they never will. All real power in the US is in the universities, the media and the civil service, and the representation of born-again Christians (no, Jimmy Carter doesn’t count) in these organisations is miniscule. Nor is it increasing.

And I’ve said before how suspicious I am when progressives say they aren’t religious. I’m not sure exactly who we have to thank for this, but whoever got their slogan “Say no to racism” on the World Cup logo seems pretty damned evangelical to me. Yet “evangelicalism” is a confusing term because it means something different in every century. Methodists, for instance, used to be the epitome of “evangelical.” In its dictionary definition, it refers to a tactic, not a denomination. So it certainly applies to progressives today.

But if you ask atheists why they don’t believe in god, you’ll get a different answer for everyone in the room. So, I propose examining the question backwards. Let’s say there is no god, no afterlife and assume the atheist’s position is entirely correct.

Could we create heaven? With another 100 or 1,000 or 100,000 years of future scientific development, could we create an afterlife, a system in which at the moment of death people’s thoughts, memories, personalities, psychology and mental patterns are uploaded into some Matrix-like machine simulation where a conscious existence can unfold unbounded by the limitations of the flesh?

What if this simulation does not simulate the present world, but rather what most people would say resembles the conventional idea of heaven? One where there are no laws of physics to bind us, where communication among the “dead” is instantaneous and at-will, and in which we would be able to flit about within the simulation instantaneously, altering our own perception of it to give us maximum happiness and do impossible things.

In it, we could speak to everyone who died after the simulator was constructed, even if those people died before we were born. Perhaps there would be an interface through which we could speak to people outside the machine who haven’t yet died. Or perhaps the simulator would have another simulation inside that replicated the real world and the entirety of human life from birth to death. A virtual heaven around a virtual world, accessible to the real world.

If the people or programs operating this system can check the state of your thoughts at any moment, alter the simulation and even change your thoughts stored in the machine. Wouldn’t they be considered omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent relative to those people inside? In fact, if you believe all that makes us human is the grey matter between our ears, the more plausible this scenario becomes.

Which means, while there may not be a god, heaven or afterlife today, there ultimately could be ones of our own making. It’d be an odd situation where although it isn’t true that there is a creator, it becomes true when we ourselves assume the role of creator. We would make god real simply by applying it to a different universe.

But if we could make these things, would we want to? What model of heaven would we use? Would we want a common heaven for everyone? Or would everyone get a customised uniquely tailored heaven? Would we create a virtual and eternal simulation of hell to serve the same punitive and penal functions as the imaginary one?

The thing is, how do you know this hasn’t already happened? How would you know if the universe is really a natural phenomenon rather than a phenomenon mimicking a possible natural universe? What would be the evidence to demonstrate that the perfect simulation is still a simulation? And what would the evidence look like that points to what it is that is being simulated?

If every sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, how advanced would technology have to be to create the ultimate magic: an afterlife and an all-seeing, all-knowing, ever-present deity to control it?

I guess in this light what passes for magic in the Bible is just science fiction cast in the metaphors of antiquity about a future too distant to see even for us in 2018. Genesis becomes a story not about the creation of this world, but the creation of a virtual world yet to be launched.

I can’t shake the idea that myths are precisely what will lead to the creation of the simulation. I think we have always and, in every culture, told ourselves stories of the metaphysical realm because to some degree we’ve always known our world isn’t real, yet there is nonetheless a real world out there even if it is unreachable and invisible.

Many atheists say they don’t believe in god like they don’t believe in fairies, magic, goblins and hobbits. Ok, good point. But adults still write stories that feature fairies, magic, goblins and the rest. Perhaps these stories, regardless of their truth, function to communicate a single fundamental message:

Your world is not real.

Monday, 26 February 2018

What Russia really exposed about the US

Forget the headlines, the US certainly does have a Russia problem – but only because Washington took its eye off the ball and never hit the reset button after the Cold War.

Today’s Russia/US fireworks start in the 1990s as the CIA was busy turning its Russian linguists into Serbian linguists because of what was happening in the Balkans and pulling back on what was, during the Cold War, Job 1 through Job N for about 50 years.

In August 2008, Washington was surprised when the Georgians goaded Russia into a fight. Why Georgia would provoke a fight with a near-corp level Russian army exercise ending just over the border is beyond my ability to understand, but the Russian military entered Georgia on the grounds of protecting Russians.

President Saakashvili, a graduate of US academic institutions, phoned US National Security Advisor Steve Hadley worriedly asking if the Russian armour was heading for Tbilisi. Mr Hadley said something like “I’ll call you back,” and picked up the phone to the CIA. The agency at that time was so focused on counter-terrorism that it had to check if it still had any Georgian analysts (it did), but at this point, it didn’t know how far Russia’s “punishing” exercise would go.

The agency tried using national technical means – satellites and overflights – to intercept and decrypt Russian army communication and to at least tell where the communications were coming from. To do this, it sent out a request to identify the DF-FLOT (direction finding for the forward line of troops) so it could see the position of Russian armour. But the agency had so focused its precious intelligence dollars to pick up phone calls from low-powered cell-phones in the Khorramshahr valley of Afghanistan that it had lost even the ability to know where a radio signal was coming from.

The CIA directed several of its Caucasus stations to get in the car, drive to Tbilisi, pick up a phone and GPS and drive north. When they saw a T-80 they were to stop, take a reading and phone the coordinates in. Russian tanks eventually drove to Tskhinvali, swept right and established a zone of control in northern Georgia. The agency realised most of its intelligence was really just targeting to find terror groups. The US was safer, but 2008 proved the CIA wasn’t a global espionage service.

Washington’s policy had equal challenges. President Bush famously said he looked into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s eyes and “saw his soul,” and President Obama said Mr Putin reminded him of a lazy schoolboy in the back row. These were dangerous misreading because Mr Putin was playing with a pair of sixes, although nobody was calling his bluff.

But the Americans had also by then made a choice about whether the digital world would be a zone of cyber dominance or a zone of information dominance. Washington chose to build a Cyber Command while Russia chose to fight for, win in and dominate the information space. Both included cyber, but Russia focused more on psychological operations, disinformation, deception and the shaping of the information environment and considers the information space to be a decisive arm of any conflict.

America’s choice isn’t directly responsible for Russian agents stealing emails from the Democratic National Convention (adult nations call that honourable international espionage). But it did mean when Russia weaponised the stolen information and pushed it back into the American information space, the US was caught off guard.

Russia used an army of computers to touch the pilfered data in ways that prompted Google algorithms to pull the data forward as “trending” and be reported by legacy media, Twitter and Facebook. The Americans know this not because its intelligence conducted deep forensics, but because they had someone on the other side of the screen watching it happen.

US intelligence knew in April 2016 this was a Russian covert influence campaign and metaphorically shook President Obama by the lapels telling him he needed to act, but he didn’t want to appear to be twiddling with the election process either. Instead, he directed the CIA to contact its Russian counterpart and tell them to knock it off. He also spoke with Mr Putin on the margins of the G20.

But Russia kept going for three reasons: 1) to mess with American heads, 2) hurt Hillary Clinton and 3) to pre-emptively delegitimise what Mr Putin thought would be Clinton victory. Whether the Russians influenced the election outcome is simply unknowable, so Donald Trump is president. Russia – bluffing with only a pair of sixes – found significant weaknesses in US intelligence, cyber policy and, most importantly, civic society.

Remember, covert influence campaigns never create fractures in a society, they only exploit existing fractures. The fracture this Russian campaign exposed exactly how dangerously the internet has splintered the US information space by allowing people to circumvent “traditional sources” to DIY their reality. That’s a big deal because, in a democracy, losing control of public opinion is tantamount to losing government.

Washington has a new choice: let the information space naturally find a new level or use corporate Big Data and artificial intelligence to align digital media with its synopsis. Washington seems to have chosen the latter, which means we’re about to see just how “free” the internet really is.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Is globalisation hurting innovation?

What continues to bother me is the question of how we to prepare children to be comfortable with thinking differently and whether globalisation hurts or helps this goal.

I think most “innovation” these days is just iteration with good marketing. When was the last time we had a revolutionary new technology? Transistors were invented in 1947. The internet in 1989. Antibiotics in 1928. It’s not that inventions are no longer possible, I suspect we’ve simply neglected the educational tools.

First off, there is no point in comparing the West to China or India. The reason electronics are made in Asia is not because their engineers are smarter, it's because US environmental regulations and labour conditions make building state-of-the-art fabrications prohibitively expensive for all but the largest companies with the most entrenched market positions.

The countries we should be watching closely are the UK and Israel. Both have companies and technological innovation well out of proportion to their size. Israel gets more US patents per capita than any other country. The UK is small, yet British companies operate globally, and British expats are everywhere. The British succeed because of a liberal approach to education. They teach humanities along with mathematics and science, preparing people for a world in which they will have to live and make a living – not preparing them for jobs. There's a difference.

This makes British people incredibly creative, innovative, lateral thinkers. All those contest shows on TV? British. Most respected news organisation in the world? The BBC. Most respected scientist in the world? Stephen Hawking, a Brit. Apple's great industrial design? Courtesy of eastender John Ives.

In the case of Israel, I've always wondered if mandatory Torah studies required of students there (Jews everywhere go through this to some extent) teaches a broader, more critical approach to thinking compared with modern English classes.

It’s true, plenty of technology products are being made outside of developed countries. According to the conventional wisdom, this is "bad" because Asian countries are getting all the associated engineering and manufacturing jobs. But from another perspective, these devices are generally used to display content made in the developed world. A DVD player might cost $50. But a DVD movie costs $20. The bet is that people will buy more movies than they will buy players.

The computers and displays manufactured in Asia are simply commodities. But the programs running on the computers – MS Office, Photoshop, video games, etc – are not commodities. They are available at a premium. Computers cost half as much as a copy of Photoshop. And the entire earth has access to the internet, but Google, Yahoo and Amazon are US companies and services.

Rather than competing with China and India on engineering, we need more science and maths education, because those disciplines illuminate the world and develop minds capable of thinking clearly and consistently to identify and solve problems. But just as important is the study of art, music and literature to understand the human condition and fundamental desires so that innovators can design the kinds of products or content humans want to use.

In other words, producing more graduates who can explain how airplanes fly is less important than producing educated people who understand why travel and exploration are a fundamental human desire. China and India are getting better at the latter, but it’s the West’s game to lose at this point.

It’s the tech companies and government that want more engineers because their interests are the opposite of an engineer’s. They want more engineers to make engineers cheaper and expendable. There is an important subtext at work here. From the government's standpoint, it should make no difference whether someone makes $40k as an engineer, photographer or game designer. They'll pay the same taxes. $40k is $40k.

This is the fundamental relationship people have with government. From its creation, government was always seen as a necessary evil that sits opposed to those it governs. That's why the American Constitution, for instance, goes to such extreme lengths to specify government powers and the rights of the people which cannot be abrogated. The entirety of US political history after the Revolution is a story of the waxing and waning of government power over the people.

Because the government is an entity opposed to the people it governs, it is better to have legions of engineers at $40k than a random assortment of photographers, designers, artists and writers (the content producers). The former work under controlled and institutionalised conditions – the corporation – consuming the bulk of a person’s week and providing their family with a salary. The corporate worker is visibly present or, more importantly, visibly absent. This legion can also be treated as a single block, precisely because the individual’s lives are homogenous.

This isn't the case for the hodgepodge of professions. Sure, those jobs require discipline, time and oversight, but they have more independence and require less supervision. Also, their political interests and motivations are highly idiosyncratic and ill-defined. Yet they are more important for the people over the long term. They produce the things onto which we can project meaning and emotional significance: arts, designed products, entertainment, etc. We seek these out in our spare time, spending our hard-earned resources to consume them, revealing a deeper human need or desire for such things.

People have been painting in caves as long as there have been people, paint and caves. The first stone jewellery is only slightly less ancient than the first stone tools. Every culture on earth has music and dance. It’s what makes us human. Regardless of one’s value judgment on these things they are important, or we wouldn't waste money and free time on them. That means people who make them are at least as important as the people who make the tools.

Just as engineering declined when manufacturing went offshore, I suspect innovation will decline too. Without an industrial base to practice the feasibility of ad-hoc techniques on the shop-floor, how can people be expected to see gaps? How can cutting-edge ideas be taught if they don't exist close by? And where will the teachers learn? What happens when the generation that did learn from the shop-floor retires? Will teachers then be imported from India and China?

I haven't been to India or China, but I get the impression those countries lack a certain amount of social overhead which lets people concentrate on becoming an expert, partially due to lower personal freedom. By contrast, the consumer choices in the West force us to put a lot of time into determining the best product to buy. Our political and judicial systems are equally conflated – most of us will be in court eventually, whether for permit requirements or actual violations.

Then if we do get some free time to socialise, no one gives a crap about engineering and maths. You better have some entertaining knowledge about music, sports or literature, along with some knowledge about the many subcultures around us. Plus, there's an expectation of near-total engrossment in a child's life and anything short of absolute devotion is considered bad parenting. It’s not clear if these unseen consequences of freedom are preventing otherwise motivated eclectic geniuses from attaining their true potential. I don’t think anyone’s figured this out yet.

Ultimately, power doesn't care which country does the innovating. Most companies are stateless multinationals anyway and all they care about are low labour costs. As it was with ditch-diggers, so it will be with engineers: those who can’t innovate will find themselves in a pointless McJob sooner or later.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Music, maths and memorisation: the point of work

Nothing of value in human experience is intuitive. All that comes naturally to the human animal is eating, defecating and killing. People aren’t “gifted” at activities. Babies don't even know how to sleep peacefully through the night. As any parent will tell you, they must learn how to sleep.

We are creatures of noise, madness and chaos. Everywhere in the world where people live together, and the inhabitants are uneducated and idle, regardless of culture, race, or time, all of them share a common characteristic – they are noisy. By contrast, two places people congregate in large numbers are quiet: churches and libraries. That’s where people get on with the work of engaging with the unknown. Understanding is a function of work. And the first point on that function is (0,0).

For instance, there is nothing intuitive in mathematics beyond the addition of natural numbers less than 10. Subtraction is not intuitive, nor is the concept of zero. The postulates of Euclid are not intuitive. If they were, Euclid wouldn't get credit for them. Fractions? Forget it. And don't get me started on calculus.

As far as I can remember, most maths before calculus is computation. To master computation takes work. Not a little work, not 15 minutes a day – it takes a lot of work. Over and over and over again, like running beep-test drills in basketball drills. Or endless scales in piano practice. Most of it is practice for the real interesting maths later. If you’re willing to put in the practice, calculus teaches you composition, the system and patterns which not only produce order but define it.

To understand something, you must recreate it. If you can do this, you stare for hours at what you just did. The sun goes down outside, and you don't see it because all you see is how the starting point so obviously contained the brilliant insight at the end. How did anyone not see it? The world you know, the same world as you lived in as an infant – all wood and metal and separate pieces – starts to look thin and you start to see the fields and flows that have always been there, and you wondered why you ignored them, and what else you are ignoring.

This is why it doesn't matter what you are studying, fluid dynamics, electromagnetism, topology, physics, aerodynamics. You are listening to the different music the universe plays, but even though it isn't expected, you know how to listen, how to hear it. You know what to expect before you hear it. You look at planetary charts and you expect the mathematical model to be something like Bach – some periodicity, synchronicity, some counterpoint within the unity.

You look at the data coming from an atom smasher, and you don't expect to hear Bach or Mozart. Maybe Stravinsky. Probably more like Xenakis. Discord and unpredictability in an irresistible force. An energy. Charlie Parker. Ornette Coleman. A force with its own internal order invisible from the outside. A fixed beginning with a very definite and different ending.

And it’s not memorisation that makes a good mathematician or a thinker, although it does add an important factor. People who make educational music with a hip-hop voice and cadence reciting multiplication tables or national capitals over a drumbeat send the message that kids can't/won't memorise pieces of information unless its put in music. But they should still memorise them if for no other reason than to train their minds in the process of memorising abstract information.

Funny how kids don't have any problem memorising the characters on their TV shows or video games but can't be expected to remember the names of nine (or eleven) planets or the identity of half a dozen species of tree in their backyard. The idea that kids don't have to memorise multiplication tables because they have iPhones is beyond ignorant. People have had abacuses for thousands of years, then soroban, slide rules, calculators, etc. and it was still worthwhile to memorise.

I was never very interested or good at maths, but I’ve since discovered the reason to memorise multiplication tables is so the patterns in the tables, for example, the relationships between the 2, 3, and 6's, and the 4's will become apparent over time. Just like it's useful for a child to see a picture of a farm to understand farms, it is worthwhile to see the landscape of multiplication to understand what happens to numbers when you multiply them.

Likewise, when you visualise a memorised table in your mind, you start to notice things that are missing from it, like 11, 19, and all the other primes. You start to notice that some numbers show up a lot, like 24, and others infrequently, like 21. When the student thinks about the table, these patterns all become part of the memory of the multiplication table. He begins to learn things about mathematics, completely independently, from the simple act of repeatedly recalling the dumb multiplication table.

If it were religion, we’d say you take your passage from the bible or zen kōan or whatever and pray or meditate on it. Maths isn't a religion, but the iterative process of thought is the same. You think about a thing, you see it in your mind, and your mind becomes so familiar with this conjured image that it can detect new patterns in it.

It’s this same reason kids are taught to memorise the postulates of geometry, formulae for conic sections, aphorisms, the names of common birds and trees, various types of insects, the continents, oceans, planets and national capitals.

We memorise datasets so we can develop insights and new ideas about the data that haven’t existed before. Memorisation is the basis of inquiry, investigation and answer. It allows you to formulate and answer your own intelligent, probing questions. Otherwise, education is nothing more than instructions for using tools.

But the emphasis here is on the work. There is no intuition or natural talent. The child who sits at the piano for hours after the other children get bored does not have a natural talent for music. He has a natural talent for work. Same with reading. The joy is in figuring out, in trying.

There is only comfort in work because all that is great comes from inhuman amounts of work. The only way to create order out of disorder, to create a pattern out of noise, is work. Work fights entropy. Bach and Beethoven worked. They suffered. They were possessed of Plato's demon, driven to study and study and study and slowly to learn to see the patterns, and until they learn to recreate the patterns, change them, and finally dare to wrangle the forces underlying those patterns, and set to work on those forces themselves, creating new patterns surprising and unexpected even to accomplished musicians.

This is what mathematicians and thinkers do. The field attracts introverts and people comfortable with solitude. Maths – not computation, but maths – requires concentration, devotion and humility. A mathematician is a good listener. Maybe he thinks he's listening to God, or the Universe, or the white noise of bombinating quarks. He isn’t working his systems of equations by mechanically jostling symbols around the page. The good mathematician and thinker listens and wonders where he's heard it before.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Being remembered in a utopian history of the future

The great American defence lawyer Alan Dershowitz recently told a New Zealand crowd the threat to free speech in Western countries worries him a lot. He hasn’t observed this kind of problem since the 1920s and 1930s.

Back then, there were obvious reasons why freedom of speech was being crushed. Europe had disastrously ended WWI, inflation was rampant, and countries were ungovernable. The major parties were the Communist party on one side, and Fascist parties on the other. None of that is true today.
American lawyer and author Alan Dershowitz

You don’t have to read Stephen Pinker’s great work The Better Angels of Our Nature – in which the professor proves the world is on an upward trajectory – that things really are getting better by almost every measure.

“Look at the US, things are going very well. Even the poor are richer than they have ever been. The inequality gap is widening, but we don’t have hunger, starvation and unemployment problems. The circumstances that normally lead to this kind of extremism in political discourse are not present. So other factors must be at work,” he says.

And yet, extremism certainly exists.

Humans don’t do very well with utopia. Philosophers have long understood that if utopia could be realised, the first thing people would do is break a window. Maybe they’d be bored and want something – anything – to happen, even if it’s dangerous. But I think it has more to do with the desire for utopia itself.

We all say we want to avoid death, but the only way to do that is to remove all the things that make us vulnerable. As those vulnerabilities are taken away, the core of what it means to be human disappears, placing us in an eternity in which nothing can grow and nothing can become. Utopia is something we think we want, but we want it only because we don’t know what we want.

I often think New Zealand is the closest any country has come to utopia. The US too has moved near to utopia. It’s not everyone’s version of utopia, sure, and that’s why some people are breaking windows. More than eternal bliss, some people simply want to be remembered.

The US is a young country, relatively speaking. It’s had a handful of versions of the same government lo these 240 years and things have by-and-large been stable (the Civil War excepted.) But at some point, the US will at least mirror Europe’s ideological, economic and social divisions. These tore Europe apart, united it under any of at least a dozen empires, and triggered countless, devastating wars. At some point in the future, maybe 1000 years from now, that stuff will happen in the US. It's inevitable.

So, if it’s going to happen eventually, why not secure your place in history as the one who sets it in motion? That way, you will drive history rather than be yet another forgotten political figure when the Big Change comes. I think this explains why people start and join movements.

Think of it another way. In all aspects of life, things exist on a continuum evaluated in relation to their opposites. Music must have high notes and low notes, soft notes and loud notes. When the music of an era holds for too long on one thing, the next era of music is inaugurated when someone plays from the other end, re-establishing a dynamic equilibrium. It defines not only the new thing but also the old thing.

Likewise, in art. Beginning in the Renaissance, painters worked to paint more accurately and realistically. But as the centuries passed, it became repetitive. They didn't know at the time they were the realistic painters – they simply assumed they were being good painters. The impressionists came along and proved a person could be a good painter by painting completely unrealistically. This new art form was distinctly unrealistic and emotional, but the impressionists also defined their predecessors as too formal and literal just as much as they closed the book on them.

The same goes for politics, law and everything else. We know our Western legal system requires lawyers to defend people we hate, so no one has ever really criticised that before.

But what if you were to demonise, intimidate and discourage lawyers from wanting to fill that role? You could ensure that people the public hates don’t get a fair trial, not by rigging the trial, but by changing the culture so no one performs the role the system assumes at least one person will fill for it to be valid.

You can affect all kinds of social change this way. The long-term trend does seem to be more freedom and prosperity due to science and technology. It feels normal, expected, just like the expectation of defence lawyer for a mass murderer. We don’t think anything of it. So, the only way to make a name for yourself is to reverse that trend. By defining the new era as the antithesis of the previous era. By using science and technology to make people less free and less prosperous.

If the trend instead was that human existence is getting more miserable with each generation, then the agitators would be out in the streets leading the revolution. They act either way because they want to be remembered generations after they are dead. You don't get that today by curing disease or doing something amazing. Can you name the inventor of chemotherapy or the microchip? Did you even know they have a chicken pox vaccine now?

I think these people know intuitively that the best way to be great in the eyes of history is to seize the machinery of civilization and throw it into reverse. It would imply you are one of the few who sees and understands the machinery. It further implies you are one of the few among the few who have seized the lever. And finally, it means you are the singular one of the fewest of the few with the courage – or insanity – daring to pull the lever knowing exactly what will happen.

Terrorists are defined by their desire to do break the status quo, but they neither see the machine nor have any control of it. As for these kids, I don’t think their heart is in it. They didn't come to this reversal idea emotionally. They are anti-freedom because these are the times which will reward such a stance.

Uncovering the conspiracy of the Deep State

I tripped on a step the other day and wondered if I should sue the “deep state,” or maybe US President Donald Trump.

By now, everyone with an internet connection knows the term "deep state." But consider that if you find yourself in complete agreement with the public, especially when "public" includes people you wanted to murder in the last election, then your position is not only wrong, it's not even yours. You have been trained to think about the deep state, so the money is in understanding why.

The question isn't whether the deep state exists, it is why so many people intuitively knew about it before they learned the term. Humans are pattern-seeking creatures, so when I tripped on that faulty step, my instinct was to blame the step, but that gets the problem backward. The issue isn't the faulty step, it is all of the correctly laid steps. I didn't trip because the step was too high or because I should have been more careful. I tripped because the city taught me not to be careful.

On the one hand, we live in a society which values free choice and personal responsibility, but we are told it is safe to value such things only because we expect a certain amount of absence of choice and freedom from responsibility. We assume we will not be allowed to make a truly dangerous choice because our judgment of risk is based on belief in God – and this is even more true if you think you don't believe in God. Hence the “deep state.” Let me explain.

The reason I thought personal responsibility is the answer to the faulty stair is that stairs already exist, and if they already exist they must be safe or "some other omnipotent entity" would not have permitted them to come into existence. That is the problem of modern culture in a nutshell. All the metaphors of modernity imply this omnipotent other, from "free market" to "inalienable rights" to "peace in our time."

This entity can be heard in language such as “globalists” and “New World Order” or "patriarchy." We all see a man behind the curtain. Conservatives say progressives are secretly ruining the world, while progressives say conservatives are holding back freedom. No one ever stops to think: “hang on, if everyone sees a conspiracy and yet no one I meet is ever a part of that conspiracy, why am I not in a padded cell?”

What stops the men in white coats from taking you away is there are no men in white coats. We think only in terms of ourselves and multiply by 7 billion. Take Turkey for instance. In Turkey, a man can be judged on his intelligence based on the complexity of his conspiracy theories. The more moving parts, the smarter he is. Who cares if these pieces don’t fit together, that just proves the conspirators are more powerful than we thought! It's easy to laugh, but what would happen to Americans if a multi-century empire and religion collapsed within a few decades? Actually, that is what happened in the US.

Turkish people were “freed” from Islam in 1924 when Kemal Ataturk founded his secular state but left the gene-deep superstition and pattern-seeking tendencies of Turks completely alone, creating a psychological vacuum. Religion in Turkey didn't disappear, God just switched ownership. The proliferation of conspiracy theories proves the Caliphs weren’t magical, they were simply redirecting the natural human desire to see meaning in a non-meaningful world.

The Christian West switched to the same omnipotent entity: science. Whereas Christians once believed in seven-day creation, now many believe in Intelligent Design. Of course, this is exactly what progressives did by changing Providence into the “arc of history.” That is: they take a belief system which is clearly religious in historical origin and try to disguise it as something that has nothing to do with God as a way to install their religious doctrines as public policy.

It used to be, when the church still had power, the bible needed to be believed entirely for a person to be a Christian. Now that the church doesn’t have power, and Science does, it’s suddenly acceptable to “apply science” to the word of God to “better understand how He did it.” This is how people talk when they align with a new status quo power structure. Nietzsche was wrong, we didn't kill God, we enslaved him and changed his nametag.

Globalists, Big Pharma, Jews, Nazis, communists, Satan, God, Allah, djinns, karma, Vishnu, Tao, voodoo, Nirvana. It’s all the same thing: a desperate attempt not to shine a light into the abyss to see just how abyssy it is. Nietzsche warned us not to stare into the void, lest it stare back into us. He wasn’t telling us to avoid the truth about meaninglessness, he was saying not to make Heidegger's eventual mistake and let this vanity be the conclusion for our lives – and to rise above this need for an "omnipotent other."

If conspiracy theories are just wish-fulfilment, then why do people always envisage nasty plans? Well, when the symbols of superstitious expression are undermined, yet our collective superstitious psyches are untouched, conspiracy theories aren't just optional, they are psychologically necessary. It doesn’t matter who is in charge, so long as someone is in charge. Billions of secular people may scream: “we live in a totalitarian world!” but they will simultaneously whisper “and thank God!”

That's why the deep state is so attractive to our atheistic brains. People often say, “Washington needs to sort Mr Trump out until the politicians can get their act together." Wow. Leave aside policy controversies for a second, observe how easily – naturally – we go over the government to a higher authority. Observe how easily people can find "some other omnipotent entity" to save us from ourselves.

The deep state is this generation’s omnipotent other, and if it fails we will always locate another such an entity because we cannot live without it. Our allegiances to grand plans constantly shift but we will never permit ourselves to live only in the abyss-mal world of our actions. We are always on the side of "who can fix this," never on the side of "I helped cause this." It isn't a political problem, it's a psychic problem: this is how all of us think.

The omnipotent other has three characteristics: it is omnipotent, it opposes the existing (dis)order, and its sole job is to protect you from yourself. Not from the world – from your bad decisions. Now can you see why conspiracies are necessary? After all, the alternative would be to live truly free. And none of us is ready to stare into that void, no matter how much we believe God is dead.

Hence the deep state.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Unsocial media

I don't like any of these kinds of social sites because whenever I create a profile no one ever wants to be my friend, so my page sits there, alone and unseen. The dark matter of the internet.

But I would still create the profile and mark my interests, diligently tagging, listing and ranking, and I would write funny things and watch and wait for people to come and like me. I am nothing if not patient, and when I was a shy little child standing by the edge of my neighbourhood pond hoping for a friend to play boats and chase the ducks with me, my mother always said good things come to those who wait. So, I wait and wait. My waiting punctuated only by the occasional page refresh. But it never changes. No one clicks me.

"What if you built a website and no one came?" they would say. They would look at my profile full of empty div tags. And they'd laugh because in my profile all my friends are placeholder jpgs in silhouette.

Surely someone would come, eventually. They must. I have the same interests as others, we have things in common, things we share. Aren't I just like everyone else in some unique way? I would wait, but nothing would change.

As I got older, and computers grew smaller, still no one came. No one clicks me, no one likes me. I am an old man now, and spend my days one after another after another sitting by the pond feeding the new ducks, reflecting on my life and all the interesting things I had to say that no one heard because I went my whole life unfriended.

And as more years passed and I grew frail, I would realise that in truth I had nothing interesting to say. I am not like everyone else, not the same in some special way. I am unlike anyone else. I am not special, I am not compatible, I am not loved. I look at the ducks and see happiness that I could have found in simple things, had I not been waiting for the friends I never made.

My profile, showing a handsome young man in the prime of his youth, is decades old, untouched and unedited. No one has seen it. Does it even exist? Did it ever? Did I?

And then one day my phone would chirp and I would check my profile to see that I had a new friend. My First Friend. This Friend looked so happy and vibrant in their picture that my heart would break with joy and I would feel young again because on the internet there is no age or arthritis, no twilight, just our ideas. I knew even as an old man the few years I had left would be spent in the virtual company of my First Friend and all the other friends who would surely follow in his wake. The days would be filled with love, chatter, kindness, tears and more life than an old man could take.

Another chirp. My new friend leaving his first comment! "Sorry man, I thought you were someone else" and then he is gone and they are all gone and my future full of friendship collapses back to the desert of me. I look agape at my profile whose pristine emptiness is stained only by that comment, that network traffic accident of a once and momentary friend, and in that moment, I realise what my profile is to the internet and what I am to the world – the thing you bump into on your way to someone else. My greatest conversations with my fellow man are "excuse me" and "sorry didn't see you there." Humanity has passed me by. It has moved on. But I'm left behind.

My top eight is empty. I am empty. I have spent my life inside my head, and I have come to loathe me.

And only then will I understand that my life was more than an infinite series of page refreshes. Standing there by the pond that was home to that little boy and the ducks who have since moved on, I delete my profile and vanish from the virtual world.

I will be an old man then. But I will have a warm coat on my back and bread in my pocket. And I will walk. I will walk the hills and the highways and the untread kilometres. I will walk on past it all, past the shyness and the loneliness, past the what-ifs and could-have-beens.

I will be old, but my eyes will work and my mind will work and I will walk and I will see what I will see.

Me alone. With no friends but the new rays of an ancient sun.

Bonfire of the summer clerks

In case you haven't heard (and why would you have?), a handful of Russell McVeagh lawyers - male, of course - were caught up in sexual assault claims over "a recent summer". Yes, that's exactly what the story says

First thing's first, what does the author wish to be true?:
"The complaints from the summer programme are similar to the revelations of harassment and inappropriate workplace behaviour which have propelled the global #Metoo movement."
Remember that word. No, not the one with a hashtag, I mean "workplace," because it relates only to this part:
"It is understood two incidents which provoked appeals for help to those in authority arose from Christmas functions that year."
But the next cited incident is a mirror - will you look into it?:
"A third incident was at a Wellington venue, El Horno Bar. A complaint to police about the actions of one man in attendance arose from the El Horno incident."
Do you see the long con? Do you see what the author wishes to be true?

Read me very closely: the sexual assault claims are important, but they are not the story. The real story is the quiet assumption that a person's job and personal life overlap. Everybody involved in this investigation is playing the same game, that you do not have a job AS a lawyer, you ARE a lawyer. You are not a female studying, you ARE a female student. You are not a young woman working as a summer clerk, you ARE a clerk. And you are not a person doing journalism, you ARE a journalist.

In this sneaky framework of modern workplaces, people are given an identity - a title - instead of a raise. Becoming a lawyer makes a person feel more important, more powerful, and therefore is perfectly comfortable answering the phone at 8pm during dinner. After all, it's who they are. They never once think: "huh, why does my contract say I'll be paid for labour between X and Y, but my clock says Z?"

This sort of sneakiness has consequences. You see, now Russell McVeagh is responsible for what its lawyers and clerks do outside of the workplace, because, according to this system, there is no outside. I have no idea how to fix this, but I also know that Russell McVeagh doesn't want to fix this because the longer its employees think a title or an identity is equivalent to or better than a raise, then guess who gets to keep the money? This is called controlling the capital.

Television has always leaked out into the real world, rather than the other way around. Who hasn't watched those legal shows where the camera follows a lawyer from her swanky corner office to the bar, hotel, apartment, the Bahamas, mum's house, etc? We thought it was just an act. Turns out the gimmick has always been that the protagonist's job and personal life overlap. That's called propaganda. You lose.

Actually, it sounds like everyone in this story lost except Russell McVeagh.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Go on till you come to the end: then stop

“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place.
And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”


By now you’ve probably heard of the Deepfakes. Essentially, it’s software that superimposes a celebrity’s face (re: a female) onto a live-action pornography video. It’s a serious test of the uncanny valley, but it really does look like Katy Perry.

Sorry, no links. Let's keep this PG.

I

I'm not sure this sort of Cartesian doubt is going to be good for society. It's already way too easy to pick which facts you prefer to believe. But we've had Photoshop for a long time now and it hasn't ruined photographic evidence. The sky hasn't fallen. Most Photoshop jobs are amateurish and easy to spot. Video fakes will be the same, at least for the foreseeable future.

Yet the faking of truth fundamentally rewrites the enlightenment understanding of communication in which each idea was hand-crafted meticulously by its maker and sent out into the world with love and affection. In that world, caging ideas is obviously cruel. And how could any person object to hearing a message, when the cost of sending a message is so high?

But now the costs of message transmission have hit absolute rock-bottom, so ideas aren't hand-crafted artisanal items anymore. They are like junk food turned out from the dirtiest factory. A person can broadcast 1000 ideas a day into the meme ecosystem and only one of them needs to make it for you to become a hero. But treating these mass-produced ideas with the same respect as actual ideas is just wrong.

Hand-crafted artisan ideas still get made and distributed to family and friends, but there's just so much information out there to drown it out.

But go ahead and Tweet your “profound insight” anyway.

II

Is Deepfakes a crime? If the celebrity wasn’t in the room during “Naughty Babysitters #439,” then is it really a video of her? How is this different to some girl wearing a cardboard mask of Katy Perry? You decide. But make sure that once you choose, you accept the logical consequences of your choice.

The first layer is the porn. I suspect – although I haven’t done the survey – that porn frustrates women not because it makes them feel inadequate, but because porn is just a proxy for disengagement. A man who chooses to watch TV rather than have sex is just a loser, whereas the husband who uses porn is “bad,” but I am telling you they are the same person. Porn is not causing men to disconnect from women, they are already disconnected, and the only person that will have them is Katy Perry’s superimposed face on some random girl’s body.

I get it, porn “objectifies” women. Blah, blah, blah. But just because a woman is on the screen, doesn’t make that thing about women. The agency of a female celebrity is being disregarded, no question about that. But that’s not the full story. Porn isn't making men feel impotent (metaphorically), men choose to consume porn because they feel impotent. Deepfakes isn’t misogyny, it’s apathy. Does the man want it to be true that he's impotent? No. He wants to be true that the reason he has sexual problems is the porn.

Free sex has changed men and women. Females thought they wanted release from the shackles of shame to have sex anytime they wanted. She could already do this, of course, but social ostracism and risky pregnancy kept her in check. Yet from what I can tell, it’s men that want to have sex with as many women as possible.

Free sex doesn’t really work for women because they want to have sex with one man as many times as possible. This reversal of natural instincts and desires, under a false impression of equality among the sexes, has resulted in a disconnection from both sexes, by both sexes, and a collapse into this practised indifferent self-absorption we call Western civilisation.

On the bright side, GDP goes up as interpersonal engagement goes down. So go long on any investment with 1s and 0s in the prospectus.

III

As mentioned elsewhere on this stupid blog, the female wants to lock a man down to limit his sexual promiscuity. If she wants a powerful man, she should be comfortable with a certain level of promiscuity in that man, otherwise, he will cease to be the man she fell in love with and the relationship will end. But men need a reason to see women as more than a sex object, it doesn’t magically happen.

Instead, women have chosen to live as sexual objects, just like advertising advertised, and sex was watered down to become masturbation with another person's warm body. The man sees the girl, but he doesn’t see her. It’s the neckline, the breast, the hipbone, the thigh – isolated and fetishised as pieces of sex. He stores up sexual imagery for later when he'll replay the mental tape, fitting the pieces of his wife with the girl on the train and Katy Perry's ankles into the ultimate sexual object - for him. Nothing else comes close to sexual pleasure, nothing else could. Now, most guys over 30 would choose to masturbate rather than have sex with an actual girl. Why?

Well, why bother? Men have heard nothing but nihilism and castigation their entire lives. I know, we’re not supposed to care what other people think, sticks-and-stone and all that. But when it gets mixed with the poison message of narcissism – the logical end-point of Christianity – you don’t feel a part of anything bigger, everything seems distant, unreal. Men don’t feel impotent because they are unimportant, narcissism depends on them believing they are the centre of the universe, the divine individual. They’re just waiting for something to happen to them, for their life to start.

And so they never act to become a person – “I am unique and special already” – instead they maintain cognitive balance by absorbing the identities the system presents to them. “I’m an actor.” I’m a great Modern Warfare player.” “I recycle.” Men want women to love them for “who they are,” even though that identity is entirely manufactured, not love them for what they do. There’s nothing worse for the soul.

And so you retreat to the .com world because at least porn prevents other people from finding out you aren't the identity you think you are.

IV

The result is disengagement and apathy. As men dissolve into inventing identities, they are less interested in establishing meaningful relationships with other people as an ultimate goal. Porn is never the problem. The issue is that men were never taught by their parents that masculinity is an achievement – something to earn, something to become, and something that can be taken away.

And I must point out that waiting for life to happen to you – passivity – is 100% a female archetype. Femininity isn’t earned, and no woman can’t lose her femininity by her actions. Every girl grows into her femininity by default when she hits puberty. I understand the business world is empty, pointless and tough to enter, but isn’t the parallel complaint to porn that women are feminising men?

“Well, maybe if men weren’t so discriminated in society, I’d have a chance to be successful.” Dude, you’re acting like a girl!

V

Identity won't get any better as the internet gets larger. But don't blame it. You're the one that clicks.

Who are you if you're not here?
Using a female image against her will isn't the problem. The anger and yelling about misogyny is hiding the quiet assumption that our online selves are identical to our offline selves. Don’t fall into this trap.

If more people understood Foucault, they would encourage the celebrities to embrace Deepfakes as a continuation of the persona (from the Greek for a pretend identity) they have created for themselves in the offline world. Katy Perry the celebrity is not the same person as Katy Perry the human. In fact, her name ISN'T EVEN KATY PERRY!!!

The creation of a persona or celebrity identity is the perpetuation of anonymity. That's a good thing. The point of anonymity online is to dig a moat between your real self and a pretend identity which you'll use to interact with other pretend identities. If you let the narrative that your online and real selves are identical be true, then you can be sold as a product. You must defend against this.

VI

The more our real selves are represented online as the most accurate representation of our identity (the default is plugged), the more we are subject to a new environment of power. And it changes not just life, but death as well. What does it mean to be dead? Doctors say death is the cessation of electronic activity in the brain. But that's not what I asked. I want to know what it means to be dead.

The closest I've ever come to understanding the meaning of death is trapped in the idea: "they say you die twice: first, when your heart stops beating, and second when someone says your name for the last time." In this reading, death is when an individual is no longer registered by other people.

Consider how a missing person is thought. In every important function of social life, they lack insurance, a passport, wants, needs, loves, a job, bills, a political opinion and even a library card. But they aren't necessarily dead, they just aren't registered as alive. The same can be said of a hermit. The moment the five senses can't detect your presence, you "might as well be dead."

Our online selves are being encouraged to represent who we are, and you demand the removal of anonymity to facilitate this transference. Add to this the constant development of new ways to digitally capture our human actions and couple them with an online personality creating an ever-more complex online character, and you can see how gradually our online selves become the prime "body" representing "you."

VII

But what happens when an "online" person does something bad in the "offline" world? What happens if the punishment is to exile their online "self" and turn off all their online access? It will be as if that person is dead because no one else will register the person's existence.

If you know anything about humans, you'll see the problem. Narcissistic rage is one response, but it's worse than this. The fear of death is so fundamental that we will do anything to avoid it. In fact, most people so despise being alone (which is why confinement is an effective punishment), they will prefer death over isolation. We even create stories about how we'll live forever in heaven if only we believe in this book, rather than that book.

I would say the invention of hell is really another defence against the terror of death. After all, no matter how frightening being forever prodded with a red-hot poker by smiling devils might be for a homo sapiens, at least it isn't the isolation of oblivion.

Anonymity is the best defence any of us has against creating a world in which unplugging becomes an existential question. I say, let Deepfakes happen and treat it as the thing it really is: an assault on a pretend identity in a realm that doesn't exist (digital). If you react in any other way, the system wins.

Do you think that's air you’re breathing now?


Huh...

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Trump wrestles with civil service and public opinion

US President Donald Trump's this week released his infrastructure overhaul plan, which includes $US200 billion in federal funding and emphasises public-private partnerships and state- and local-level funding. Now comes the most important part – the manufacturing of consent.

The phrase comes from Walter Lippmann’s “Public Opinion” (which also introduced the word “stereotype”). Mr Lippmann’s point is that a 20th-century democracy is not and cannot be a level playing field for ideas. The state uses its power to endorse a system of thought, which then becomes popular, leading the people to support the state. This feedback loop is extremely stable and, if employed properly, allows enlightened experts, such as Mr Lippmann, to run the world.

More like, "We the civil service"
In the US, the Federal government controls education and the universities. It would be possible to transform the educational system and “mainstream media” into a Department of Information without many substantial changes – simply give professors and journalists GS ranks, and so on. There are some differences between the TVNZ and the New York Times, but the fact that one is a government agency and the other is a publicly-traded company isn’t one of them.

But this doesn’t make the US a “totalitarian state.” It’s best to have one word for the US and another for the regimes of Stalin and Mao. For example, even the Khrushchev-Brezhnev-Chernenko period in Russia had more in common with the US today than with Stalinism. In a “real” totalitarian state, no one is safe. In a country of manufactured consent, people must want to cause trouble to get in trouble. The US is a “democracy,” but that word doesn’t mean what most people think it means.

If "democracy" is defined as a form of government in which sovereignty is legitimised by popularity, all the Western 20th-century regimes were democracies – their mutual loathing notwithstanding. Large-scale mind control is an inalienable element of democracy (this is why I always wear my tinfoil hat, even in the shower) and all these states have practised it.

The fact that the liberal democracies which won the wars, and which rule the world today, can allow free elections and do not (in general) use violence against heretics and apostates, is a measure both of the superiority of the (classical) liberal system of government and their mastery of public relations. Even Donald Trump can make it into the White House.

In general, Western governments manage public opinion not by sending the racists, libertarians, fascists and fundamentalists (dissidents) to treatment centres in Alaska, Arnhem Land or Fiordland, but by subsidising a large and comprehensive system of official and quasi-official education and publishing that inculcates correct thinking from cradle to grave.

The educational system is important and powerful in Western society, dictating an increasingly narrow range of "acceptable" policies which the largely symbolic political system must live within. In other words, a democracy is a society ruled by scholars, just as a monarchy is ruled by soldiers or a plutocracy by merchants. Of course, not much separates a scholar from a priest, so “vox populi” certainly is “vox dei.”

So how did this "Fourth Republic" version of democracy come about? Quick history: At the time of the American Revolution, there was a general political assumption that the mercantile upper classes would favour mercantilism along with a large, active state and inflationary monetary policy.

These were views generally associated with Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists, who were considered quasi-monarchists. The strongholds of this perspective were Boston and Philadelphia. Federalism generally corresponded to the “court party” of 18th-century England and the Federalists tended to sympathise with Britain in its conflicts against France.

There was also a general political assumption that the rural upper classes, the growing urban artisan class of “mechanics,” and the rural frontier class, would prefer free trade, a small, Lockean state, and a non-inflationary monetary policy. These views were generally associated with Thomas Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican party, which corresponded to the “country party” of 18th-century England and tended to sympathise with France against Britain.

Old TJ
So really, the American “democracy” structure of today was a reaction against the disastrous and inept rule of the Federalists, who – if you calculate the classes above – did not exactly command a popular majority. As a result, there are Republicans and Democrats, but no more Federalists.

However, if TJ was brought back to life, he would say the US was still ruled by the Federalists and had been for the last 155 years. He would point out the Federalists simply twisted around until they found policies which could attract mass support for a gigantic state. And the first name the Federalists took after it became no longer possible to call oneself a Federalist was “Whig,” which was originally a term for the English country party – the parallel of today’s Democrats.

Now calling themselves “progressives,” the Federalists took over the Democratic party itself. The last Democratic president who can be described as Jeffersonian in any way was Grover Cleveland. This strategy worked out well as voters in the South continued to support the Democrats as a party of limited government well into the 1970s. If you want a good laugh, read the 1932 Democratic presidential platform. A balanced budget? A 25% reduction in government size? A sound currency?

Like all the 20th-century “democratic” regimes, the Fourth Republic commands almost unanimous support, even from Mr Trump. It became the most successful and stable version of democracy by figuring out how to manufacture consent without outlawing its opponents. All it must do is subsidise its supporters, and it does this with a constant holy vengeance. This Fourth Republic continues to operate regardless of elections, because no rollback of the New Deal has ever been seriously contemplated by the US political system, nor can it.

On the other hand, any return of democracy (in the Tocquevillian sense) would be powerful enough to dismantle the “nonpartisan” civil service state with which Donald Trump now wrestles. But it is also powerful enough to replace the system with something much worse. One of the reasons progressives hate Mr Trump is they see him as a pure product of democracy. I don’t think they’re wrong about this at all. But that doesn’t mean US “democracy” works very well.

Mr Trump’s infrastructure plans – along with the immigration, tax, security, etc – are all sure to pass, but only if he aligns with the machinery of the Fourth Republic. A year into his job, he’s beginning to see the reality: It’s civil service all the way down. And Mr Trump has to use this machinery, no matter how much he would prefer not to.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Imperial games in Syria

Syria’s regime and Iranian forces have attacked Turkish armoured vehicles which were deployed to establish a blocking position near a critical front-line south of Syria's Aleppo City in the Kurdish-majority Afrin canton.

Turkey's goal appears to be to deter Bashar al Assad and Iran from providing military support to Kurdish forces defending Afrin against the Turkish “Operation Olive Branch” offensive. Meanwhile, the US says it will stop providing weapons to the Syrian Kurds.

Given Turkey’s use of Syrian airspace with fighter jets during the offensive, it is likely that Turkey and Russia have been cooperating. So, what’s happening here? Why is Turkey doing the US’ dirty work in Syria? It’s almost as if Washington planned this. In fact, someone should check if they did.

Turkish armour in northern Syria
As always, there are multiple layers to this story. But the most important is to remember that the permanent government in Washington is a beast of two major factions: the Pentagon and the State Department. All empires have a competition between generals and diplomats like this. Although there is a single goal – expansion – exactly which faction controls this policy is up to the politics of the day.

When these two factions compete for control over Washington, you get Vietnam. The result is never a victory, but either a "quagmire" (State-speak for "obstructing the Pentagon") or "fighting terrorism" (Pentagon-speak for "obstructing the State Department"), depending on who has the political initiative. One more factor: Republicans are the Pentagon’s political arm, while Democrats are State’s.

But when the two factions unify to fight a war, the result is the utter annihilation of the enemy. WWII is a good example. Washington unifies when the enemy is a competing form of government, such as fascism, not just any old enemy. Otherwise, it prefers to encourage "organic" regime change through soft power or use proxies to undermine the target state.

What’s happening in Syria is a reaction to the crescent of influence Iran has been building from Basra to Latakia. It might look like Turkey is in control, but that would be misread. This comes down to the American grand strategy which demands that no other single imperial power emerges to unify a region and control the sum of its resources.

Such a power in the Middle East would dominate the Mediterranean basin and the Indian Ocean. If left unchecked, it may also control British geopolitician Halford Mackinder's "World Island" (Eurasia), threaten the sea lanes, and then eventually America itself. Washington is always watching for this and will step in preferably before the scene explodes into a world war.

Iran has both the will and the resources to control a significant swathe of the Middle East. Syria’s Mr Assad is an Iranian proxy Washington has been trying to remove for years. During the Obama administration, the strategy was to fund terrorists in Syria (State calls them "freedom fighters") to achieve regime change. Yet State’s indirect regime change hasn’t worked, and the Pentagon doesn’t have the stomach for direct action.

However, Syrian terrorism is mainly Sunni. This is a key point. During the Obama (State) years, ISIS (a Sunni group) was treated with kid gloves, but within a few months of the Trump (Pentagon) years, ISIS has been broken. The Pentagon has cancelled State’s “freedom fighter” programme, but that doesn’t mean the Sunnis are no longer useful for Washington.

Sunnis have been fighting a blood feud with Shiites for centuries, and Shiites are generally Iranian. And from Washington's perspective, it is better that Iraq and Syria have pockets of Sunni resistance than for Iran to dominate a contiguous landmass from Basra to Latakia. But the most important Sunni power is Turkey. Turkey’s offensive represents a new opportunity to deny Iran the security of a cooling Syrian Civil War. At the level of grand strategy, Ankara can also balance Tehran's imperial ambitions by playing the other side of the chessboard.

At a higher-level, Washington’s goal is an “international community,” dissolving the idea of the country down to a symbol. The Arab Spring was the result of years of careful propaganda into the Middle East to create pro-“democracy” agitators and encourage regime change from inside – much neater than the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions anyway.

No, the Arab Spring wasn’t a perfect plan executed by shadowy CIA operatives. It was simply the effect of chaotic pressure delivered by soft power internet tools. The internet collapsed a handful of Arab states and nearly broke others. Iran and Turkey haven’t escaped the pressure of the internet either, peppered as they constantly are by "pro-democracy" movements.

How is this pressure possible? The Pentagon uses military force, but the State Department uses internet penetration. Bombs are certainly effective, but as more people log on, they are exposed to American ideals creating within them a desire to be part of the "international community." After all, the internet is the quintessential American technology: global, free and egalitarian. Internet exposure pretty much guarantees eventual alignment with American ideals.

Washington knows it can’t fight all its wars. Not only are there never enough imperial troops, it is unwise to bring attention to one’s empire. Far better to sneak in the empire’s default assumptions of good government among subject people’s traditional cultures. That way, they might even think fighting in Syria is their idea.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Why Australia's 'Invasion Day' protests matter

What should we make of Australians protesting "Invasion Day"?

Let's stick with the basics: if you can't defend your property, you don't own it. The Australian Aboriginals were defeated in combat by Europeans so they lost control of their property. Simple as that. Only the victor gets to write the rules and only the victor has the naming rights. As Stalin said after learning the Pope disapproved of his policies: "How many divisions does the Pope have?"

Might makes right, as it always must.

So if victors get the naming rights, then what explains the renaming of things in Australia? I'm not saying the protesters are successful, but no one is shutting them down. Why? Where did these new victors come from? Was there a war I missed? 

Yes, there was a war: it was called the Long War of Democracy 1914-1991. It was largely fought in the Pacific and on the European landmass between three versions of democracy: German/Japanese fascism, American communism and Soviet communism. American communism (aka "progressivism") was ultimately victorious and made the biggest cartel in history.

What is often forgotten is that these versions of democracy were only able to fight because democracy as a constitutional structure had already defeated the previous structure. The French called it the "ancien régime," but the most important fact was that the old structure had built an enormously complex machine of statecraft and empire that extended in some cases (Spain, Britain, Germany, France, etc) globally.

This structure was based on civil service aristocracies with a formal monarch on top in most cases. It had its own nomenclature and ideals and spent its time building up this structure and expanding as far as the international law would permit. But it invented technologies that ballooned population sizes to the point where the old modes of social control were no longer suitable. The central question of government became: what should we do with all these people? That's why democracy is such an obvious tool of power today.

Monarchy and feudalism were no longer be appropriate and in the US, Britain and France a new form of government, the "republic," emerged as a competitor for control of the Western system. New forms of social control were developed, and power began to flow away from the old aristocratic stewards to the new democratic republican stewards with the fresh ideas. 

While they were more suitable for the new world, republics drew their legitimacy and power from the consent of the governed, which also meant that to rise to power a person must align himself with what a majority of people want. That can be dangerous. Public desires could be manipulated to a degree, but ultimately all governments based on democracy eventually dissolve into socialism. This is an inevitability.

The Long War wasn't fought between the old regime and the new republics. That battle was already completed because the former was outcompeted in ideas. The question that led to fighting was which version of democracy would organise Western government - not just of Europe, but for the globe.

The protesters in Australia are simply the long arm of the most successful version of democracy: American progressivism. Since 1991, it has been encouraging different parts of its captured global empire to scrub away any and all references to the old structure (nation-states, nationalism, Westphalia, etc) and introduce the progressive's new structure (global village, globalism, etc) to the world. We are living in the shift away from the nation-state to the market-state, and new frameworks being set up.

Alongside this scrubbing process, it is constantly watching for infiltration by the competing versions of democracy, which never really disappeared. American progressivism did a good job stamping out German and Japanese fascism, and Soviet communism was an American export anyway so it's less of a threat, but Washington can't afford to have ideological competitors drawing power away.

"Invasion Day" protests are not signs of degeneracy, destruction and an attack on "traditional values" necessarily. They are simply the natural consolidation of victory by a new constitutional power. There are only two kinds of countries according to the progressive imperialists: American-style democracies and soon-to-be American-style democracies. Australia is getting "the treatment."

American progressives, acting on ideas from Harvard, are busy going about reforming Australia in their image, as is the prerogative of any victorious power. When you own the world, you can do anything you want. Canberra knows Washington controls the world's oceans, and Australia relies on secure sea-lanes for its trade. So Australia owes the US, and the progressives are cashing in that debt. And there's a lot of debt, not just in the Lucky Country, but across the world.

Think about it in a counterfactual way. What would 2018 look like if the Soviets had been victorious in 1991? What if the fascists had won the Long War? There would still only be two kinds of countries: those harmonised with Moscow/Berlin and those moving towards harmonisation. In that universe, Australians would just be arguing about Soviet ideals or Nazi frameworks instead. There is nothing inherently "good" about American progressivism, just like there was nothing inherently "good" about German Fascism. It's just that Washington has all the guns.

The logic of the progressive empire is simple: tribalism (re: nationalism) is the root of all conflict, so the answer is to turn everyone into members of the same tribe. Ta-dah! World peace. Much of the world is already captured by the progressive ideal - look for gay-pride flags, "social enterprises" and lots of people jogging (I can explain) - but there are still many sections of society in need of proselytisation and conversion - even in America. Hence the protests.

What you're witnessing in Australia isn't deconstruction, it's just empire.