Wednesday, September 12, 2007 29 Comments

Method and apparatus for safe and effective regime change

Frequent correspondent TGGP has a new blog, and I encourage all and sundry to visit. If you read the comments here at UR, you know TGGP. If you don't, I can't imagine why not.

TGGP after the last post wrote: All of your other posts claiming to be subversive were rather laughable and reminded me of Jim Goad's The Underground is a Lie. This is serious though: The Polygon manufactures racial animosity by recruiting minorities as its Stasi.

This is typical of the fellow. He insults you brutally and then offers you a cookie. My guess is that he learned this tactic from watching "The Dog Whisperer," with Cesar Millan. As a commenter, TGGP is sort of like a demented cowboy karate sensei, who teaches movement and technique by firing live rounds at his students' feet. We bloggers are the students, and we deal with it only because otherwise, we would look weak. As Eliezer Yudkowsky, the Kwisatz Haderach of the Singularity set, puts it: our wish is to ourselves become as strong! And here at UR, we are nothin' if not strong.

Okay. Anyway. Thank you, TGGP, for that very pithy summary. "The Polygon manufactures racial animosity by recruiting minorities as its Stasi." Think about that one for a moment, folks. Please do not accept this proposition on its face. It is probably untrue. It is almost certainly inaccurate. It may even be a devious and evil lie. (It would sound even more devious and evil if it were translated into Latin. Here at UR, it's never too Da Vinci Code.)

Let's hold this pithy summary aside for the moment. Just kind of let it sit. And consider another question: what kinds of offenses justify regime change? In a normal, Western liberal democracy, not Iraq and not Indonesia and not Sierra Leone, but the US or Sweden or Belgium, what would a government have to do, for the consensus of its population to be that this institution is irretrievably corrupt, and needs to be completely replaced?

Let's describe a change of this sort as a reboot. In a reboot, the existing government, including all formally unofficial organizations that may in fact have become quasiofficial, is fired. They are not put up against a wall and shot, they are not torn to shreds by a mob in the street, they are not even harassed by jeering protesters. They are simply discharged, and lustrated - that is, prohibited from holding any future official position.

For example, Nazi Germany was rebooted. After 1945, anyone who had been associated with the government, in any way, under the Third Reich had to receive a Persilschein, a political clearance (Persil being a brand of soap) to hold any position of responsibility, private or public. At least in the West, ex-Nazis actually got off quite lightly. (One way to see that the Allies were the good guys and the Nazis were the bad guys is to look at how the latter would have treated the former after a similarly unconditional victory. Okay, I guess, there was a little bit of slave labor. But it was comparatively minor.)

Various levels of lustration have gone down in Eastern Europe since 1989. Poland is in the midst of a lustration controversy right now - many people who were successful and influential in Communist Poland have, perhaps unsurprisingly, become successful and influential again. D'oh! But nothing quite like the Nazi reboot has been implemented in the 20th century, though in the 19th perhaps the demise of the Confederacy comes close.

It's clear that Communism and National Socialism were more criminal than Universalism - though the latter lives, and perhaps its most dastardly deeds yet await it. It's also clear that a murderer is worse than a rapist, and a rapist is worse than a thief. So what? These kinds of comparisons only take us so far.

Instead, as all too often here at UR, we must plunge into philosophy. We must open the foamy chambers of the lungs, and descant. Please breathe and prepare yourself, gentlemen. We are in for the twisted and savage part of the passage. No Virgil will appear to bother us, but I've arranged Hunter S. Thompson for the evening.

What are the criteria for a reboot? What offenses must a government commit before it deserves to go the way of Enron, E.F. Hutton, and the Confederate States of America? How bad does this bad boy have to be? Where should we set the bar and say, no lower? I'd like to think we can answer this question from first principles, without reference to either Bush or Hitler.

Following the precedent of Nuremberg, most people who hate a government these days - for example, those who think of Bush as Hitler - tend to condemn it for its deeds. The approach is to draw up a list of crimes - war, torture, murder, ordering the Trilateral Commission to tell the Carlyle Group to hire Israeli art students to blow up the World Trade Center, whatever. Obviously anyone involved with these crimes must be impeached, prosecuted, imprisoned, chopped into little tiny pieces and put into a woodchipper, like in Fargo, and then burned to make sure. And after that we will all live in peace and be happy.

In my humble opinion, this procedure compares very poorly with a proper reboot, both in safety and effectiveness. But what of the criterion? Shouldn't a government, like a private citizen, corporation, etc, be charged and prosecuted for any crimes it may commit?

Actually, I don't think so, and here's why.

The problem is that a government, unlike any private entity, is sovereign. This is not a mystical, ethical, or otherwise normative description. It is just a statement of military reality. A sovereign entity is one that cannot appeal to any higher government to protect it, and thus must defend itself by itself.

And it can be very hard to distinguish between foreign aggression and preemptive self-defence. Germans in 1939 were convinced that their nation was encircled and about to be attacked and destroyed by its enemies. So were Israelis in 1967. So were Northerners in 1861, who were sure they faced submission and tyranny at the hands of the Slave Power, which was plotting to extend the slave system from Cuba to New Hampshire. Was it? Well, it's a little hard to tell these days.

Similarly, it can be hard to distinguish between domestic oppression and effective law enforcement. We'd like to believe that law can in all cases be preserved by law alone, but it just ain't so. If you're invaded by a foreign army, you can't arrest them, read them their Miranda rights, and charge them with illegal immigration. SWAT teams are one thing, but civilized law enforcement in a polite society has no place for artillery or tank divisions.

Drawing a line is even harder in a civil war. If you're tired of hearing about "hearts and minds" and you want an accurate picture of how to effectively suppress terrorist gangs, Col. Trinquier is your man. Unfortunately, his point is that the more fascist a counterinsurgency effort looks, the more effective it is. See also Dr. Luttwak, who basically agrees. If you compare Iraq to the Philippines, you can see the results. And if your solution is to err on the side of being less fascist - the rebels might just win. In which case you'll really see some fascism.

And if economic crimes are your concern, distinguishing theft from taxation, and taxation from "user fees," rents, monopoly grants, etc, etc, is just as problematic. And so on.

Fundamentally, when you accuse a sovereign entity of violating the law, you are making a moral judgment rather than a formal or procedural one, because there is no such thing as formal law at the sovereign level. There is nothing wrong with moral judgments. But there is also no axiomatic system that can compel multiple reasonable parties to concur on them.

This is why I prefer a different test for triggering a reboot: the level of systematic deception that a regime inflicts on its subjects. From a strictly military perspective, my belief is that any government of any modern state can maintain its own security without subjecting its population to any sort of a reality distortion field. Therefore, deceptive governments are not necessary. And therefore, they can be rebooted and replaced with honest ones.

For example, suppose Bush blew up the World Trade Center. I don't believe this and I hope you don't believe it, because frankly, it's stupid. But suppose it was true.

From the Nuremberg point of view, the problem is that the evil Bush-Hitler regime killed 3000 Americans as part of its evil plot. From the corruption-centric point of view, the problem is that the EBHR distorted the public perception of a major historical event.

Note that if Bush blew up the World Trade Center and acknowledged it - if he went on TV the next day and said "yeah, man, that was bad, that was some crazy fun bad-ass shit, and let me tell you how I set it up. What are you going to do about it, punks?" - we'd be living not only in a completely different reality, but one in which it would be entirely pointless to think about any sort of a reboot, because obviously the EBHR is in charge and doesn't care what we think.

Furthermore, the Nuremberg approach, in which we apply the metaphor of criminal justice to the actions of a sovereign government, implicitly invokes the legal concept of mens rea, the guilty mind. As prosecutors, we have to show not just that the EBHR's actions result in wrong, but that they intentionally result in wrong. We have to distinguish between incompetently allowing Osama to blow up New York, and intentionally allowing Osama to blow up New York.

Using corruption as a criterion completely avoids this trap. The question is whether the government is propagating disinformation, not why the government is propagating disinformation. It's not at all personal. Sincere believers are much better at spreading lies than evil conspirators. If our test only tests for the latter, it's not a very good test.

Thus, we can ask: is the real meaning of diversity that "the Polygon manufactures racial animosity by recruiting minorities as its Stasi"? In other words, would Beatrice, our imaginary alien historian, write in one of her little reports, "one practice by which the postwar Universalist regime controlled its population was by granting privileges to minorities, making them dependents of the State, training them in Party doctrine, advancing them to positions of influence, and giving them the power to report their colleagues to the authorities"?

Again, if this was officially acknowledged policy, there would be no reason to question it. Whether or not it's an accurate description of reality, it is clearly not officially acknowledged. I'd like to think readers can agree that if TGGP's little summary (which he personally may or may not endorse) is an accurate description of reality, the discrepancy between this reality and the formal meaning of diversity is an adequate justification for a reboot.

There are two classes of major official disinformation, which I think should be considered separately. One, the government can distort history. Two, it can distort science.

Distortions of history, which we can call pseudohistory, are almost always matters of interpretation rather than matters of fact. History is the story of the past, up to and including yesterday. While pseudohistory sometimes contains factual errors, really good pseudohistory can construct a bogus narrative through selective omissions and distortions of perspective. The Dolchstoss legend is a typical confection of pseudohistory.

Pseudohistory always depends on concealment and deception. The only conceivable test for pseudohistory, at least the only test that I can think of, is that additional information can force you to reevaluate the pseudohistorical narrative. Again, for the government to be promoting pseudohistory, its official pseudohistorians do not need to think of themselves as concealing the real story. Mens rea is never required. Perhaps, for example, the pseudohistorians simply have no institutional incentive to challenge a generally-accepted pseudonarrative.

The problem with pseudohistory as a criterion for rebooting is that a historical narrative is inevitably a very subjective thing. Reasonable people can certainly disagree, for example, as to whether diversity is functioning as a system of political control and indoctrination. Perhaps the most suspicious fact is that this perspective, which strikes me as quite straightforward, is not readily available to most Americans, who indeed have few social or professional contexts in which it is prudent to even mention such an interpretation.

An easier form of disinformation to diagnose is pseudoscience. While I dislike the word science, if it means anything, it means an accurate and reproducible procedure for constructing the truth. Pseudoscience, therefore, is anything that pretends to be science and actually isn't. Feynman's essay on cargo cult science is required reading for anyone interested in the subject. The classic example of 20th-century pseudoscience is Lysenkoism.

Since I believe in separation of information and state, I believe it's very easy for a government to avoid any implication in pseudohistory or pseudoscience. It can simply refuse to care what its citizens think, and separate itself from any activity that would involve the construction or propagation of "official truth."

However, we live in a world which is full of all kinds of official truth. Since every human activity is fraught with error, some of it is certain to be wrong. If we want to construct an alarm which is meaningful, rather than one which goes off immediately and trivially, we have to distinguish between incidental and essential pseudohistory or pseudoscience.

Incidental disinformation is disinformation which can be corrected by simply realizing that it's false, with only minor disruptions to the institutional structure of society. Essential disinformation is deeply embedded in society's power structure, and cannot be corrected without substantial organizational changes.

For example, for a large part of the 20th century, official geologists denied Wegener's theory of continental drift, and instead promoted theories of continental stasis which we now know to be erroneous. This was certainly pseudoscience. But the Republican Party was not implicated in promoting continental stasis as a way of gathering electoral support in Kansas and Missouri. Nor did the Democratic Party teach innocent little children in third grade that democracy is the best possible political system because it keeps America from sliding around. And so, while the plate-tectonics revolution certainly affected some geologists' careers, no mobs had to storm the White House and rename it the Blackened Ruin. Therefore, continental drift was incidental rather than essential disinformation.

I think it's pretty clear that diversity, if it is indeed best described as a mechanism of political control, is not in the incidental category. Essential pseudohistory or pseudoscience satisfies the full definition of corruption: profitable deception. For another example, if anthropogenic global warming turns out to be pseudoscience, it is getting very close to the essential line. We're a little past the "whoops, sorry about that" point on this one.

Therefore, my reboot test is that a government should be rebooted if it systematically and successfully promotes essential pseudoscience or pseudohistory. I simply see no reason at all to tolerate this kind of crap. If there are only one or two examples, perhaps they can be corrected individually. Otherwise, it's time to hit Control-Alt-Delete.

Again, rebooting doesn't just mean replacing a few politicians. It means completely uninstalling the present government, and installing a new one from scratch. All laws, regulations, policies, procedures, and personnel from the old regime should be replaced.

The last point is critical. Frankly, a so-called reboot without a total lustration is like doing a heart transplant and then leaving a sponge in the aorta. It's like painting "Fuck The Pope" on the side of the America's Cup yacht and then realizing you did it in watercolor. It's like having a date with Claudia Schiffer and not being able to get it up. Did you want to be pwned? Because by rebooting without lustrating, you're certainly asking for it.

Total lustration, again, just means that no official of the old government can serve in the new government. It assigns a single bit to every member of the population: "an official of the old regime" or "not an official of the old regime." The resulting database is small enough that you could store it on your average cellphone these days, but it's critical (and it must be public information).

Here is why you have to lustrate: people being what they is, there has to be a government. Once your new government contains any employees of the old government, it's very likely to end up containing most of them. In which case, why bother?

Lustration should always, in every conceivable circumstance, include an unconditional amnesty for all offenses committed in the course of official action under the old regime. No questions should be asked of anyone. If people want to tell their stories, they can. It is almost as essential for lustration to avoid show-trials as it is to lustrate in the first place.

Lustrating is sort of like cutting out a cancer. You want, as surgeons say, "good margins." When in doubt, cut through healthy tissue. If there is any doubt of whether or not a person was associated with the former regime, mark that person official. After all, if he or she is capable of working productively for the benefit of others, surely the private sector can find room.

Lustrated officials have not been tried or convicted of any crime. No animus should be attached to them. They should receive any accrued pension benefits, preferably in a lump sum, so that there is no permanent relationship between them and the new government. If anything, these benefits should be increased, so that former officials - many of whom will be unsuitable for any productive employment - suffer no great or general hardship. Perhaps retraining grants should be made available.

Of course, I haven't addressed the two hardest practical questions in any reboot: what the new government should look like, and how to get the old one to go away. Perhaps we'll look at one of these next week.

(Update: see a discussion of the comments here.)

29 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like that word, "lustration." I'll have to work it into the name of my next D&D character. Barred from any position in the magocracy, Henkel the Lustrated lends his arcane talents to a ragtag group of swashbucklers seeking wealth and glory in the labyrinths...

September 13, 2007 at 3:32 AM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

In my experience, the only reasons for a populace to demand regime change are substantially lower living standards than those in recent memory or those it came to expect. This is an absolutely necessary, though not sufficient condition for a successful reboot.
As long as people are reasonably prosperous by their own standards, most of them oppose regime change.

September 13, 2007 at 4:43 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

"The question is: among what social or professional circles is it more fashionable to be a conservative than a progressive?

The answer is: the energy industry, the agricultural industry, the military, the salvationist religious community, and pretty much nowhere else."

You missed finance Mencius. Big miss. Combine that with real-estate development and medicine, where the fashion benefit is more moderate, and, oh yeah, everything associated with food and industry, and you are talking a majority of the economy and thus the society even ignoring the items you mentioned.

Exxon could, if it wanted to, buy control of all the Ivies, but that wouldn't support the bottom line.

September 13, 2007 at 7:55 AM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

Therefore, my reboot test is that a government should be rebooted if it systematically and successfully promotes essential pseudoscience or pseudohistory.

I cannot believe any government on Earth could past this test. We'd be rebooting more often than Windows 95.

Nor do I see why it should be grounds for rebooting. The only justification I see in this post is "I simply see no reason at all to tolerate this kind of crap." I'm not sure that qualifies. :-)

September 13, 2007 at 7:56 AM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

Also, it appears to me that in order to affect a reboot, it would be necessary to convince a majority of the population that the government had engaged in pseudoscience or pseudohistory. But if you can convince the population of that in a democracy, you've already solved the problem!

September 13, 2007 at 8:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, Michael, the Big Corporations run the world, blah, blah, blah. Why not try thinking outside the same old sterile categories that both Left and Right have been stuck in for the last 75 years.

Incidentally, if you think that most people in finance are "conservative", well, words fail me.

September 13, 2007 at 8:33 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Err Anonymous, I'm there. I know these people. That's certainly how they see themselves.

No one "runs the world". I don't ever expect any human to. Too much complexity to hold in a mind. The old Hayek problem. People can and do prevent events that threaten their personal situations though. Loss aversion is strong, and people in positions of power often have significant sensitivity to short term losses.

Mencius: I'm simply going to reiterate Jewish Atheist on this post.

September 13, 2007 at 10:21 AM  
Anonymous Edward Williams said...

This is ridiculous. You have provided no means for a new government to even get started. Are the people who make the clean sweep immediately in charge of the new government? How do the people who make this clean sweep get themselves in the position, except by dreaming? Which is clearly all you are doing.

Also, you use too many boring metaphors, making your thoughts seem harder to follow than, in reality, they really are. When I read your pieces slowly, I always end up thinking; is this not just obvious?

Also, lustration is an ancient washing and baptismal ritual, and I don't think the later political association has freed itself from that association. It is confusing, clashing, ugly even, and very distracting in the context you use it. But you seem to hanker for such terms, as if to tweak your readers. Is this not pseudo-intellectual?

And finally, your pseudo science test is ignorant. We are living in an age of pseudo-science and runaway technology. Giving license to that is pretty naive. But, since you are dreaming anyway . . .

September 13, 2007 at 11:49 AM  
Blogger Byrne Hobart said...

Michael:

Being conservative and in finance is often seen as a sign of bad taste. I mean, D. E. Shaw, one of the largest hedge funds out there, was originally located on the second floor of a communist bookstore in the Village, and these guys raise huge sums for bleeding-heart causes.

Mencius: How do you segregate 'government' from the Polygon? Can a former member of the government edit a newspaper? Can he write a blog? Can he manage a campaign? If it's literally "Members of the government" who are forced out, wouldn't every major pol just switch job titles with his campaign manager and return to the status quo?

I think you need more than a bit. You need an 'influence quotient' that measures the correlation between someone's opinion and subsequent policy. So I probably have an IQ of -.8, and Ted Kennedy probably has an IQ of .9. If you want this to work, you either have to have a cutoff (nobody in government without an IQ below .5) or a tax (you lose $10K and one vote for every .1 of IQ above 0).

September 13, 2007 at 12:11 PM  
Anonymous George Weinberg said...

I'm going to have to go along with the others here. The "essential lie" criterion for "reboot" is a crock. In the vast majority of societies which have existed, whether one was ruler or ruled was pretty much irrevocably fixed at birth, and this was well known. So because it's not a secret, the ruled should regard this as right? That makes no sense. It seems to me that the pragmatic criteria should be 1) are you sure you can pull it off? and 2) are you sure you'll be better off afterwards? bearing in mind the potential consequences of being wrong. When the estates general was first called, the French nobility thought the result would be a decrease in the monarch's powers and an increase in their own. When one is wrong, sometimes there is nothing to be done but to shrug one's shoulders.

I think the idea of an essential lie is peculiar to democracies, or at least to societies which pretend to be democracies. Coming from anyone else, I'd say this objection to being lied to sounds like moral indignation trumping practical considerations. Are you sure it isn't? Because it's okay if it is.

September 13, 2007 at 1:38 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

tbpimThis is getting kind of silly. Whatever force is sufficient to effect a reboot of government has to be at least as strong as the current government, and thus is likely to be just as problematic as what it replaces. The new one will be uncorrupt in your definition why, exactly? Because you'd prefer it that way? Lustration will remove all the corrupted and corruptors and replace them with a shiny new class of honest rulers? Where do these honest souls come from and what prevents them from becoming what they replace?

It appears to me that you are taking a justified frustration with the liberal piety you label universalism and inflating it far beyond any reasonable measure. Because Harvard and the New York Times are self-righteous, we need to have a Jacobin levelling of everything? There seems to be a major failure of proportion going on here.

September 13, 2007 at 3:50 PM  
Blogger B. Broadside said...

Does the lustration extend to the military? I'm just curious, because it seems like you've spoken favorably of martial law, and in any case the loss of experience which would come from kicking out all the lieutenants and generals would seem pretty severe. On the other hand, maybe by "old regime" you only mean the blue government, in which case the old security forces could stick around as long as they took care to separate themselves from the information providers.

September 13, 2007 at 3:56 PM  
Blogger Studd Beefpile said...

There are several systems of voting that have an "against all" option. As far as I am aware, none of them have established what happens if "against all" wins a majority. I often see it proposed that a given polity should adopt such an option, with the caveat that should it achieve polity, a new election must be held with none of the original candidates allowed to run. This strikes me as an ineffectual idea, but a harmless one. Bryn's identification of seperating polygon from government is apt, but his solution is arbitrary.

The more interesting question is how MM, as a good formalist, can support revolution?

September 13, 2007 at 6:22 PM  
Anonymous ru said...

Sorry, Michael, but I'm not believing medicine is peopled by conservatives more than liberals/Universalists

I think the comments have been a little hard on this blog entry. Seems to me that a society in which the power elite weren't systematically lying to protect their privileges would prove a distinct improvement over the currrent system.

September 13, 2007 at 8:50 PM  
Blogger B. Broadside said...

studd beefpile wrote: "The more interesting question is how MM, as a good formalist, can support revolution?"

This is a good question. If
(a) a formalist seeks not to move power around in a revolutionary manner, feeling that that would be antipropertarian and wrong,
(b) information transmission is a form of power, and
(c) a paralibertarian reformer seeks to replace dishonest government with honest,
then how can the formalist also be the paralibertarian reformer?

Okay, my "paralibertarian reformer" coinage is just growing its feathers and may not take flight, but I don't really know what else to call this aspect of UR. It seems to me that formalist thinking launches several separate critiques which may have validity and are definitely interesting, but I'm not yet sure if they are entirely compatible:
(a) Political science: Abandon nominalism. Admit who holds power and be clear about what type of power it is. Don't get hung up on who you think should have power. (I don't know exactly how this is different from positivism. Have been meaning to look it up.)
(b) Political reform: Separate the rightfully public security apparatus from the rightfully private information sector.
(c) Public ethics: Respect property rights and the rule of law. Taking power through demo(cra)tic means is no more legitimate than stealing someone's bike with a pair of bolt-cutters.

Reconciling (b) and (c) sounds difficult. It may depend a lot on power being fungible. Faculty and civil service tenure are forms of power, but so is money. The reboot involves a form of eminent domain in which the Polygon's property rights are sort of respected, but not to the degree where they can opt out of the transaction.

I guess I am wondering, like others, if the neocameralist reboot doesn't get ensnared on the basic formalist ethic against revolution. UR has described the American revolution, the Lincoln regime, the New Deal, etc., as illegal and several synonyms for bad. It just seems like a whole lot is resting on the assertion that lump sum pensions for the defeated turn what would have been an illegal antipropertarian revolution into a something wholly unprecedented (and several synonyms for good).

I do think agree that the response to this post has been a little harsh. UR makes a good case that democratic, Universalist government has a big incentive to dishonesty. Altering it from a quasi-religious, social-justice-worshipping, shotgun marriage of overeducated elites and racialist thugs to a formal, common-stock business is a powerful idea. Corporate officers may lie to boards of directors, who may lie to stockholders, but come on, let's admit there's at least a possibility that the incentives to do so are lower - much lower - than in progressive mob rule.

One argument against the reboot can be applied to almost any proposal for political reform: if the power to make this reform exists, how come it hasn't happened yet? This isn't particularly original nor is it easily dismissed. UR is about selling ideas of limited government to a new audience. Selling them democratically, a la the Libertarian Party, hasn't worked, and UR argues it can't work. So, stop asking people to give up power and sell them on a new way of using their power - coming forward, being honest about what they're doing - and punishing them when they fail to do so.

(In case you're wondering, I support this position mainly from a thought-experiment, devil's advocate standpoint. In actuality, I am more or less a Milton Friedman-style classical liberal of the type who is always busy losing elections without condemning elections per se.)

September 13, 2007 at 10:43 PM  
Blogger Studd Beefpile said...

I guess I am wondering, like others, if the neocameralist reboot doesn't get ensnared on the basic formalist ethic against revolution. UR has described the American revolution, the Lincoln regime, the New Deal, etc., as illegal and several synonyms for bad. It just seems like a whole lot is resting on the assertion that lump sum pensions for the defeated turn what would have been an illegal antipropertarian revolution into a something wholly unprecedented (and several synonyms for good).

This strikes me as the sort of post hoc justification the Universalists would use. Actually, it is EXACTLY the method used by Meiji Japan to weaken and evenually abolish the Samurai, while binding them to the new regime.

Pragmatically, this strikes me as an excellent policy, provided it could be done bloodlessly and with at least a veneer of legality. Even a very conservative pragmatist would find this revolution a good deal less scary than most, more of a coup really, but MM's formalism makes Burke himself look like a radical. Revolution for immutable law seems a dubious prospect, what would we have the mob chant?

September 14, 2007 at 1:01 AM  
Anonymous Randy said...

Mencius,

You've made some outstanding observations over the last few months, but with this post, I think you hit the main point with your last line. There's no practical way of doing a reboot that comes up with anything better.

The basic problem, as I see it, is that government = corruption. As the anarcho-capitalists are so fond of pointing out, an entirely voluntary government wouldn't need to be a government at all. And as all elements of government that are not voluntary are corruption, government = corruption. Does it make sense to reboot corruption in order to establish a new order of corruption? Then neither does it make sense to reboot government. However, what does make sense is to downsize government/corruption, and the way to do that is to take each element one at a time and find a way to make them all voluntary.

September 14, 2007 at 8:40 AM  
Anonymous TGGP said...

I agree with the others that "rebooting" is a fairly drastic step which I would reserve for seriously harmful activities, not just trying to make us believe things that aren't true.

As for whether I believe my summary is true, the answer is no. I've always been the wimpy moderate relative to you, and that issue is no exception.

September 14, 2007 at 11:55 PM  
Blogger Gojomo said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

September 15, 2007 at 3:13 PM  
Blogger Gojomo said...

The diagnosis of systematic dishonesty is sound. The implied prescription remains suspect. For example, I find this suggestion fantastical:

Since I believe in separation of information and state, I believe it's very easy for a government to avoid any implication in pseudohistory or pseudoscience. It can simply refuse to care what its citizens think, and separate itself from any activity that would involve the construction or propagation of "official truth."

Governments don't engage in propaganda because that's the *hardest* way to retain 'sovereignty', but because it's the easiest. A government could be honest, invest heavily in police/military, and face wealth-destroying resentment and occasional violent resistance from various organized idealists (who, historically, kill even in futile efforts). Or, a government could divert some of that 'strongman' budget into opinion-control and get an excellent ROI: fewer police/soldiers required, more cheerful compliance by coopted idealists, and less wealth-limiting negative-sum conflict. Lying by rulers is adaptive: cheaper and more effective than the alternative.

Unfortunately, believing lies is also adaptive, up to a point. People specialize, and can only afford understandings of areas outside their expertise that are oversimplified or fictional wishful-thinking. The pseudohistory and pseudoscience fulfill a deep need to believe something -- something not too complex and not too depressing -- about the rest of society.

Unless a "new formalist man" is just around the corner, the functionaries of your new regime *will* care what their citizens think, and will be strongly motivated to manipulate information to achieve least-cost domestic security. Perhaps, new structures and beliefs can more effectively minimize the practice of 'official truth', but I don't see the practice withering away completely.

Though, I look forward to your forthcoming attempts to convince us otherwise.

September 15, 2007 at 3:20 PM  
Anonymous Randy said...

Gojomo,

Re; "Unfortunately, believing lies is also adaptive..."

There it is.

September 16, 2007 at 4:37 AM  
Anonymous TGGP said...

By the way, Henley and friends consider you "warmed over den Beste [..] regurgitated Instapundit with a smidgeon of the justly ignored TM Lutas" and I've got my review of "On Power" up.

September 16, 2007 at 3:26 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

I love the bit where they talk about how difficult it is to think. Yes, indeed.

September 16, 2007 at 4:14 PM  
Blogger Independent Accountant said...

I just read this piece. I recently called for a 25-year moratorium on any Goldman Sachs employee or "former" Goldman Sachs employee going to work for the Fed, Treasury, OMB, etc.

December 1, 2007 at 6:32 PM  
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January 31, 2009 at 10:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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March 2, 2009 at 9:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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March 2, 2009 at 9:28 PM  
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March 6, 2009 at 9:07 PM  

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