Friday, March 19, 2010 105 Comments

The true election: a practical option for real political change

Sometimes people ask me: are we, in fact, doomed? Is history over - as all recognized authorities assure us?

I respond: well, they would, wouldn't they? UR is no fan of recognized authorities. We're not here for your official reality. No - wounded we hung, pierced by a spear, pledged to Odhinn - not for any government truth. Here at UR, we sacrifice ourselves, we hang nine long nights on that cold, cold gallows, for the real thing alone, for reason unmixed, for reality itself. And when we find it we fall down, we crumple, we are thrown to our knees, we abase ourselves utterly, we cry like little girls.

But before your golden calf, lords of Egypt, we have nothing but a little girl's silver laughter. Sue us! Shoot us in the police-station bathroom! When all weapons are gone, all magic spears are lost, all swords are rusted through, truth and laughter remain. You are human. You cannot resist a little girl. Your weakness, which will be your downfall, is just that: your humanity.

So. Reality. In reality? In reality? In reality - yes. Of course, in reality, there are options. Let me tell you about one. I call it the true election. It's really a very simple plan.

And not, of course, a quick one. Honestly, I'd be amazed if anyone tries anything like it, any time before I'm an old man. The true election can succeed anywhere and at any time - but it has to be ready to work. And it does not work itself - you have to be ready to work it.

So it's not an Internet virus. Or at least, not just an Internet virus. Since neither of the above constraints is anywhere near satisfied anywhere, no true election can occur any time soon. So, if it frightens you, there is no need to worry! Ha ha. (In truth, I sometimes scare myself.)

First, I must assure you, there is no danger of a military coup. Ie, no danger of an American coup. The Pakistani coup is never to be counted out; in Turkey, all the TV stations have a special tape they play when there's a coup; and that pioneer of the form, Haiti, first nation of the Third World, is always a hotbed of innovation in advanced civil-military relations. America, however, is entirely exempt from this danger.

Or intractable, of course, to this cure. At least in our own day and age. And with what age can we be concerned? One may act for all ages, for the entire future; many purport to; some do. But all act only in their own. For us, in our own age, a military coup is impossible. For better or worse.

Not that it's at all impossible to argue for a coup in America. (If you disagree, read more UR.) However, any such argument has an inevitable quality of unreality, like suggesting that orange aliens from Titans should float down and repair Washington. Well, sure. In fact, I believe they should. But in fact, they won't.

No, really. I'd have little hesitation in preferring the interstellar colonial domination of arbitrary space aliens, sight unseen, to USG 4 in any present or future revision. Especially the latter. With space aliens - it's a gamble, I admit. They could be carnivorous. But a bit of a Pascal's bet, I fear. So how much rather would I bet on the Marines? Will the Marines feed on my living flesh?

Alas, space aliens are more likely. In historical time, the entire United States is well on its way to turning into Detroit. And what will Detroit turn into - in another forty years? Detroit squared, I have no doubt. And when America is Detroit squared, Detroit is Detroit cubed, and the Marine Corps wears full ballet attire and deploys no weapon unsuitable for a kindergartener, its personnel will unanimously and dutifully obey whatever beyond-ridiculous, idiotic, bureaucratic orders they may receive from the raving, zombie-ridden flanks of the Potomac. What less should we expect? It is always the good captain who goes down with his ship, and for no idle reason.

Or, at least: before America is bad enough to have a coup, she will have to be a bad girl indeed. As a student of history, I can tell you: she has only just started on this process. No - in America, the Devil has made few strides indeed! Rather, the rest of the world mainly has he plowed. The coups will be there, and not here. They are (a) necessary and (b) none of your business.

As Burke said: there is a lot of ruin in a nation. There is certainly a lot less ruin left in England, than in Burke's day! But ruin aplenty yet remains to her, and there is even more in America. Even in California.

If you had told an Englishman of Carlyle's day that in 2010, California itself is bankrupt, he would simply not have believed you. For our state, of course, in the 19th century was a metonym for wealth itself - an almost literal El Dorado. If the San Francisco city fathers of 1910 could see their city now, they would pray for another earthquake to finish it. But Carlyle, among very few (Froude is another) both could and would say: "I told you so."

When you read old books, are you reading the people who were right, or the people who were wrong? The people who told the truth, or those who lied? If the latter, step up to nothing at all. Better not to read history at all, than to read it uncritically. Ignorance of the past is a heinous and shameful thing, but I prefer it a thousand times to misinterpretation of the past. This is always a crime; that is, its systematic perpetuation is always attributable to some unsavory, depressing and mundane motive, which will one day be universally acknowledged.

California is ruined. Not by the absolute standards of history; just by the standards of present Californians. As a present Californian, I feel these standards are enough. I feel they are entirely legitimate. I know that, if present trends continue, California will not look like Somalia for a very long time - not personal time, but historical time. There are even permanent geographic differences. For instance, though both are coastal, their climates are quite different.

But suffice it to emerge that over the last 50 years, California has gotten much more like Somalia. By which I mean, of course, Somalia today. Somalia has gotten much more like Somalia over the last 50 years, too! Perhaps these phenomena are related. Perhaps they will continue perhaps, for another 150 years.

Who can say that in 2260, Palo Alto will not see its traffic-jams of gun-mounted technicals? Because frankly, if the last 50 years are smoothed to a line and that line is extrapolated out to four times its length - I see technicals.

Which may in fact be operated by genuine Somalis. Just as champagne isn't really champagne unless it's from Champagne, a technical isn't really a real technical without a real Somali behind the .50-cal. But, well, we're working on that! Ohio, for instance, is full of Somalis. Proving the irresistible power of geography over culture - never mind DNA - they are assimilating perfectly. They look funny, but they act just like other Ohioans. Many, for instance, have become diehard Buckeyes fans; most are Republicans; the very bowling alleys are packed with Somalis.

Not. But, okay, sure - we're working on a lot of things. In the long run, any dystopia, any utopia, is realistic. By 2260, a lot of things can happen. Some, however, are making better progress than others. Which will America see first? Useful nuclear fusion? Authentic Somali technicals? Your guess, dear reader, is as good as mine.

So, yes: America is not ready for an actual coup. It is nowhere near ready. And hopefully it will never be anywhere near ready, for there will be no technicals - authentic or otherwise. I will restrict myself to saying that, once we see technicals, I hope it will act. But there is a lot of ruin in America, and I for one would like to see it stay there. As a student of history, and specifically of the 20th century, I can say: I don't need to see it.

So the true election is not a coup. It's a coup alternative. It's something you do, so that you don't have to have a coup. That said, if successful it achieves the same result: peaceful regime change. A successful coup is, of course, a bloodless coup. An unsuccessful coup can be quite nasty. In an unsuccessful true election, nothing happens at all.

And if the plan is successful, the result is: a reset. A reboot. A reinstall. Out with USG 4; in with USG 5. Out with the present government, which has been proven incompetent; out with the Constitution, or what these days goes by its name (if you want to disturb a supporter of USG 4, ask him to explain the relationship between the Constitution and constitutional law); in with... something else. Something new.

Yes, Virginia, the world is none too old for new things! And if you don't like it, you can always vote for the present government. That's what makes it an election.

Military intervention precluded, there is really only one practical path to genuine and permanent change. Genuine and permanent change can only be produced by the unconditional and irreversible abolition of democracy. Genuine change, permanent or otherwise, can only be produced through the application of democracy.

Therefore, to produce real change, apply the methods, practices and standards of democracy to abolish democracy. This is both difficult and dangerous. But nothing easier or safer will be successful. Anyone who wants to change the government, but is not working toward a true election, is basically wasting his or her time.

As a glance at history will show you, there is nothing even slightly contradictory or impractical about this project. Not only can democracy be overcome by democracy, democracy can be overcome only by democracy. Indeed, it can only be overcome by extreme democracy.

That is: democracy so complete that it sweeps away all nondemocratic political authorities, placing all decisions directly in the hands of the People. Extreme democracy is the democracy of the Committee of Public Safety; democracy without republicanism, in the patois of the civics teacher; democracy above judges, above courts, above law, above everything. In a word: sovereign democracy.

Now, a sovereign people, choosing to act collectively in this majorly bad-ass manner, is not fscking around. Sovereign democracy is not "American Idol" or "The West Wing." Sovereign democracy is the real thing: raw, unconditional authority. Power in the true historical sense. The people become the People.

And if the People want O.J. Simpson hanged, the People have him hanged. If the People want the lower Potomac watershed restored completely to its pre-Columbian condition as a natural wetland and major blue-crab nursery, the People have the bulldozers, the money and the power to get it done. You don't put on the Ring of Sauron and then go to a fscking disco. You don't use your new Sith powers to pick up chicks in a goth bar. If the People recover their sovereignty, it's because they intend to use it. They might not use it wisely, but they'll certainly use the holy fscking Jesus out of it.

Therefore, to exercise their new sovereign power as effectively as possible, the People do the obvious thing. They designate a single individual to act as their agent. They elect a dictator. The democracy of the Jacobins is also the democracy of Napoleon III, of Cromwell, of Hitler.

The results? They depend, obviously, on the dictator. The People are sovereign. If the People, via the dictator who is their agent, choose to invade Poland and massacre the Jews, the People invade Poland and massacre the Jews. That's what sovereignty means. It does not strike me that Americans will invade Poland and massacre the Jews. But people change. The Americans are people. Therefore, better to act sooner, rather than later.

If you have the right to vote, you have the right to elect a dictator (a perfectly respectable Roman title). Otherwise, you don't really have the right to vote at all. You're not actually participating in the circle of power. You're just calling in to American Idol. If you want to actually act politically, the first thing to do is to obtain actual political power. In the present state of USG 4, and in any conceivable future state, this can only be done by this mysterious device of my own invention: the true election.

The pure, wild democracy of the true election is the dioxygen difluoride of republics - the universal solvent and reagent, capable of anything so long as it holds the mob in thrall. It was last seen in this country 75 years ago, in the reign of FDR. FDR was not actually elected in a true election, and nor was America's only other dictator, Lincoln. But both governed as if they were.

Yes. FDR (like Lincoln) was a dictator. He governed America more or less personally by decree. Obviously, many people worked for USG in FDR's time; but, as with a normal corporate CEO, none could flout his will and survive professionally. FDR was not quite in charge of the courts; Lincoln could disregard the judicial process, but FDR couldn't. However, these exceptions should be seen as minor details in an overall pattern of general personal government.

Those who hanker for a New Deal 2.0 should remember that FDR invoked a permanent state of emergency in 1933, just like Hitler. And just like Hitler, he ruled for life. For the next 12 years, he and his minions governed America by whim, like Dick Cheney cubed. It's true that FDR found himself constrained by the Supreme Court. It's not (entirely) true that when he fought the Court, he lost. And there was certainly no one else in America who could contend with him!

(Nor was FDR, as commonly asserted, a "traitor to his class" - anything but it. FDR's beliefs, or at least his speeches (in one so seldom praised for candor, the inference of any actual conviction is at best an exercise of imagination) can indeed be studied as almost perfect reflections of the intellectual fashions of America's apex upper class, the socialite-socialist aristocracy. These fashions have changed somewhat since 1933, but not that much.)

FDR could not, it's true, order someone arrested or shot for no reason at all. At least, not so far as I know. We still have a lot to learn about this era. FDR did not have the powers of Lincoln, who could have anyone arrested, and did - but not shot. Lincoln was no Lenin or Hitler. For the purpose of managing the normal operations of government, however, FDR, Lincoln, Lenin, Hitler, Henry VIII, Cromwell and Napoleon exercised more or less the same level of authority: personal sovereignty.

So this remedy, hardly new to history, is not even new to us. Rather, America has taken the Dictator Pill in the lives of those now living - 75 years ago. And 75 years before that. And its pet historians, though the grant-fed dogs they are, celebrate these episodes as marvelous renewals. Does it compute? Does any of this crap compute? No, gentlemen, we will have the truth!

FDR, personally, was not much of an administrator. FDR was a charming hereditary socialite and a fine political actor. As an administrator, he gets a D for aptitude, a C for effort, and a D for results. (As an actor, his performances turn the stomach today. Try listening to an FDR speech, or worse - watching a propaganda newsreel. This incredible, heavy-handed, flagrantly mendacious schmaltz was pure dynamite for the unsophisticated radio listener of the '30s.)

But in his entourage, FDR had some of the most talented administrators in the history of the world, and those administrators had more or less full executive authority. For instance, if anyone in the lives of those now living has held the job of "CEO of USG," that would be Harry Hopkins. Colonel House dreamed the dream - Harry Hopkins lived it.

There is no Harry Hopkins in Washington today. There is no Colonel House, either. There is no one even remotely like these people; there is no job remotely like their jobs. All the royal powers of the New Deal have been sliced into micron-thick wafers and distributed around ten or fifteen office buildings. These powers have not gone away - quite the contrary. They have, of course, expanded. But they have also become entirely impersonal. (In many cases, they have ended up in the hands of the judiciary - once FDR's worst enemy.)

The change is for the worse in a thousand different ways, but perhaps the worst is that it eradicates any conceivable responsibility for bad results. Thus 65 years after the death of FDR, post-New Deal Washington displays all the vices of the real New Deal, and none of its virtues. This will not change. This clock does not roll back. There is no fountain of youth for the State. A Brezhnev does not become a Lenin. Fish soup does not become an aquarium. Etc.

Bismarck said: God has a special providence for fools, drunks, and the United States. In the 20th century we saw one great manifestation of God's providence: America made it to Brezhnev without going through Lenin or Stalin. But after Brezhnev, what's next? More Brezhnev, and nothing else. Chernenko, you might say. Don't tell anyone I told you so, but God's providence seems to be on the wane. At least as it comes to America. Before it goes away entirely, perhaps we should make some collective effort to actually deserve it.

The basic grim truth that Americans need to face up to is that American successes and victories in the 19th and 20th centuries did not happen because of America's unique political system. They happened despite America's unique political system. America became great not because American democracy was great, but because America was a great people in a great place. As such, it was uniquely resistant to the poison of democracy, and alone survived its own disease. Now that the bloom is off the continent's youth, we can see how well American democracy works in a normal country. Others have experienced this disappointment; now, it is our turn.

The paradox is that to act collectively on this realization, we must release the power of pure democracy - which, in a democracy, can do anything. Up to and including terminating democracy. Power can relinquish power; the Ring can destroy the Ring. Indeed, gentlemen, there is no other good use for the Ring!

Many people realize this - almost. They are called libertarians. A libertarian is someone who does not want his agent, the State, to exercise power. He feels the nobility of resignation. There is only one problem with our libertarian: he does not realize that sovereignty cannot be destroyed, but only transferred. Natura abhorret a vacuo. He cannot resign his democratic office until he resigns it - completely - to someone. Preferably not the wrong someone.

When he bridges this great mind-gap, he makes his final escape from the Computer, completes the Carlylean metamorphosis and emerges as a true imperialist butterfly. Watch it happen here. Note that "The Devil" is the chairman of the LPUK:
What is it, to be free? Free to do what one wants? Or free to walk down the street without fearing for one's life? Surely if one permits the former that necessarily puts the latter in jeopardy? Which freedom is more desirable?

The Devil at The Devil's Kitchen has me wondering about freedom. From what I can gather, he argues for freedom from the state. Being a lefty kind of girl, I've never questioned the existence of the state before. Being a lefty kind of girl, I grew up believing the state takes money off its citizens in order to redistribute it. It helps the poor to be less poor. It forces the rich to care about those who are less fortunate. It provides free health care and education for all. It enforces rules to ensure its citizens are kind to each other, look after each other, and do upon others as they would do upon themselves. Being a lefty kind of girl, I believed the right-wingers to be evil monsters and the left-wingers to be righteous pursuers of justice.

Then I became a teacher.

Now all I can see is the great harm done to my children by the welfare state. I see young women encouraged to have children at an early age by the state that dangles pseudo-gifts in front of their eyes. I see most children take their education for granted, or indeed reject it entirely because they haven't had to pay for it. I see parents take little interest in their child's education because they'll have an education, no matter what. I see both children and parents abuse books, pencils, or laptops because they have been given to them. I see property defaced over and over, because it belongs to no one. I see my colleagues abused day after day by children who have no sense of gratitude.

My children are no longer free to have motivation. They are no longer free to have ambition. They are no longer free to have a sense of pride, or indeed shame. Gone is the freedom of making plans for the future, or saving for a rainy day. Gone is the idea of building up a bank of skills to make something of oneself. Gone is the idea of being responsible for a life, for one's own life, and for one's family.

But if there were no state, who would build the roads? Who would pick up the rubbish? Who would provide the police who keep me safe when walking down the street?

My children do not have the freedom to do what they want, as I think The Devil would like for himself. They are children. And we take their freedom, with the hope that this will give them greater freedoms later in life. My children are too young to know what is good for them. I don't ask them to do the right thing. I tell them. I tell them to do X in the same way that the state tells us to do Y.

Being a lefty kind of girl, I don't mind being told what to do by the state. I only mind when the state's orders cause harm. My issue with the state is not with its existence. My issue with the state is that it takes away any meaningful freedom from my children. It leaves my children with the freedom to go to prison, work at McDonald's, or have a child. The state robs my children of their lives. And being a lefty kind of girl who pursues righteousness and justice, I hate the state for killing my children.
Alas, there is no present political option for Miss Snuffleupagus. (Read some more of this incredible blog while it's still up - for instance, this or this.) There is no Imperialist Party. At least, not yet. But as a student of history, I can tell you: sanity, though it can disappear almost entirely for centuries, can never be counted out. Truth and laughter!

As a dramatic act of catharsis and termination, American democracy can only be properly decommissioned by the American voter himself. As a democratic citizen, to give up on democratic politics is to say: I relinquish my powers, I resign from office, I surrender my thinly-sliced marshal's baton. I reject this system of government, which has failed. I will no longer serve as its part-time officer. Therefore, I will abstain from voting, until I can vote for a complete transition of authority.

This act of sovereign resignation, however thinly sliced or even entirely forged, is a noble act. It is not at all an act of submission - ie, to the Emperor. Rather, because the democratic voter in a true election establishes both Empire and Emperor, yet concedes her own powers forever, voting for the Emperor is an act of both dominance and self-denial. Among advanced civilizations worldwide, this unusual combination is is characteristic of the historical ideals and principles of nobility. As such many generations have seen it in the stories of Cincinnatus, the Self-Denying Ordinance, the Newburgh Conspiracy, etc, etc.

Surely you're familiar with these episodes. Or not. Alas, nobility is not much studied in the classrooms of USG 4. But its converse, here, will serve our purpose just as well. The problem of democratic de-democratization has its legendary analogue in the surely-apocryphal story of the monkey-hand trap, from which the monkey can only escape by letting go of the banana.

To escape from late, Brezhnevized democracy and advance into history, which contrary to popular belief is not even slightly over, the American voter has one and only one collective problem to solve: letting go of the banana. He can obtain good government by using his democratic power to cancel itself, and replacing democracy with Empire. And in no other way.

As a collective decision, letting go of the banana is so difficult, and so obviously in retrospect redolent of the purest, noblest, and most historic motives, that it will be instantly unsurpassed in the epic drama of history. Like the victory of Augustus, it will usher in a new imperial age of social, economic and political repair and restoration. Not just the capital city, but the entire country, is drastically in need of renovation. Remodeling the burnt, cockroach-ridden wreck of democracy is no easy task. The Emperor, however, is up to it.

If American voters can end democracy in a true election, whether locally in a single state or at the Federal level, the act will instantly and automatically be imitated by every democratic nation in the world. In a flash of golden light, not at all unlike the fall of communism, Empire will break out everywhere. The wave that once so overwhelmed will hesitate, fall and roll back. Again, as democracy ends in America, the world will see military coups everywhere. (Unlike democracy in America, democracy elsewhere is - again - none of your business.)

But the fall of democracy is bigger than the fall of communism. Much bigger. Before communism fell, hardly anyone in a communist country could imagine the end of communism. After it fell, no one could possibly imagine its restoration. When the idol falls, it smashes. Gilt clay, marbled brick, show their guts for what they were. Who worships clay? Clay, in shards?

So once this feat is done, properly done, it is done entirely and for good. For those who say it cannot be done - no empire is eternal, not even yours. For those who say it should not, consider the matter again! If I cannot change your mind, time will. The arrow points downward. History, which is not at all over, holds seven thousand hells beyond your dreams or even mine. "Enormous Megatherions, ugly as were ever born of mud." Somalia! Somalia! Somalia is coming to America. Slowly and certainly, this way or that way, Somalia is coming. Extrapolate the curve. I mean, you do know how to extrapolate curves. You can extrapolate any of a dozen.

But how can it be done? How can we release the powers of pure democracy, to terminate USG 4 and instantiate USG 5, firing the electorate and installing the Emperor? Oh, it's actually quite simple. Again, to start the restoration process in a nation whose fundamental constitution is the principle of popular sovereignty, all you need is a true election.

Let us now unveil this mysterious, yet shockingly simple, plan.

Why is a true election called a true election? Because after a true election, the election's winner (person or party) actually receives complete control of the government.

I know! It's shocking! Dear reader, you can scroll up if you like, and check if I said my plan wasn't shocking. No - this is a shocking plan. You should be shocked. Dogs and cats live together; UR endorses pure democracy.

By unconditional control of the government, of course, I mean absolute sovereignty. If it's not clear to you quite what this means in practice, it will be. You can also read Filmer. I'm a big Filmer fan. And there's always Hobbes, of course. And my own idol, Carlyle.

Now, true elections are not regularly held in America, or in any country. Rather, when you elect a President, you elect a man or woman who will direct a specific agency of government, the White House. What are the actual powers of the White House? The answer is not at all simple. But the answer is certainly not absolute sovereignty. Therefore, an ordinary Presidential election is anything but a true election.

How do you turn an ordinary election into a true election? Quite easily. To create a true election, find an election for some office that could legitimately exercise sovereignty (ie, not dogcatcher, School Board, etc), and place on this ballot a candidate or party who have made the unilateral declaration that, if elected, they will consider their election a true election. If you don't like it - don't vote for the candidate.

We'll call this person the true candidate. Let's assume, just for fun, that she's a woman. If elected, through the magic of popular sovereignty (not to mention the practical asset of almost unanimous grassroots support in the security forces), she will simply assume the emergency powers which the voters have granted them, and exercise them. Since the election is a true election, these are the powers of Augustus - the power of imperium.

And whatever her elected title, her actual duties have only one true name - Empress. Or Queen. Or, of course, CEO. In the 21st century, the English vocabularies of royalism versus imperialism are both effectively equivalent; as opposed to mere monarchism, which refers to the present, symbolic monarchies; they are clear and honest assertions of unconditional executive authority. Equivalent executive authority exists today in the private, corporate sphere, whose bland doxology is far more likely to achieve adoption. But ya can't say I didn't try.

Thus, our true candidate assumes the imperium by the following obvious strategy. She declares that though her name appears on the ballot for Governor of California, a largely titular and legislative position with little meaningful executive authority, the voters of California voters can use this election to communicate their general dissatisfaction with the present government of the state, and their desire for a complete change of regime.

Therefore, if you go to the ballot box on Tuesday and vote for the true candidate, you agree that you are voting to (a) resume your popular sovereignty, and (b) exercise that sovereignty by electing said true candidate to occupy the new office of True Governor of California, for simplicity shortened to Governor, with absolute personal authority - the executive powers of a sovereign CEO. Or, of course, Empress. This delegation of sovereignty is not permanent, but can be retracted in a second true election, which will be held in four years exactly as scheduled.

Obviously, if such votes are in the majority, the voters will expect them to be honored. There is a bit of the Jedi mind-trick to all this, but not much. It's democracy, after all.

To vote for the true candidate is to say: I have no confidence in the present government. I therefore vote to resume the authority of the people, accepted implicitly in all constitutional systems, and transfer complete control of the government for a limited time period to you, my true candidate - in whom I do have confidence.

If you win the election, true candidate, I delegate my entire slice of sovereignty to you. I expect you to demand and assume this personal authority, governing in general accordance with the detailed program you have set out, but overriding all other institutions and authorities by your own personal decisions.

Ideally, the true election is an election for an existing position of nominal executive sovereignty. For instance, if a candidate runs for President on the platform just described, and wins, the mandate is clear. The requested authority is almost certain to be uncontested.

Heck - FDR, though democratically elected, was elected on a platform which promised almost the exact opposite of the policies on which he governed. He assumed personal sovereignty without anything remotely like a democratic mandate. (He just had a rubber-stamp majority in both houses of Congress - a perfectly practical way to run a one-party state ) If a true election actually mandates the imperial scepter, the evidence of consent is overwhelming. And will overwhelm.

But history is not over, and nor will ever be; no border is final; no empire, not even the empire of democracy, is forever. Thus a true election can occur not only in an existing sovereign, but in any plausible one. Victory in this case constitutes a popular declaration of secession. If the new sovereign is not independent, the new sovereign is not sovereign. (Indeed, a true election is probably the only way in which a state, province, or even a city can secede.)

So, for instance, suppose California elects a true candidate in a true election. What is her first act as True Governor? It can only be to: declare the independence of California, institute a state of emergency, and order the state security forces to secure all borders and military installations. (In case you hadn't noticed, Abraham Lincoln is no longer in the White House.)

Can she do this stuff? Of course she can do this stuff! She's the True Governor. If she wants someone shot, the CHP will drag him out and shoot him. That's what absolute sovereignty means. (That's why you should be careful who you vote for in a true election.)

But will the CHP obey her? That, of course, depends on what she plans to do. For example, if a major plank in her campaign platform is the annihilation of the Jews, no. I don't think the CHP will obey her. Regardless of how many votes she gets for her annihilation-of-the-Jews platform. However, if her platform is not the annihilation of the Jews, but rather the restoration of adult supervision to Sacramento and sound government to California, I suspect the matter will be otherwise. And really, could she win on any other basis?

Having achieved that philosopher's stone of history, the true imperium, personal government of California, our Governor faces her next problem: keeping the new Ring she has forged. Being a pearl of great price, imperium demands a castle of great strength.

FDR had no trouble with this stage. But FDR, I'm sorry to have to tell you, was, um - well - FDR was, um, evil. Not as evil as some; but more evil than many. The Governor, who is not evil, has achieved personal authority by non-evil methods. Indeed none other could have worked. Now that she is True Governor, both ways are open to her. Choose the right true candidate, and she will choose the path of righteousness! Choose the wrong one, and...

First, democracy cannot be undone in a single true election. No electorate can be convinced to elect a dictator-for-life - not by any honest method. And probably not by any dishonest one. The True Governor's sovereignty is absolute, but it isn't permanent. Again, she is no more than the agent of the sovereign people of California - who have tied themselves to the mast for four years, by agreeing not to have another true election until the Governor's term is up.

Rather, by electing the Governor, the citizens of California have merely chosen to test the hypothesis that democracy is the cause of all their polity's ills. The Governor is not elected for life. Quite the contrary - she is elected for the normal term of office. Moreover, she will not run for re-election. Modern dictatorship, 20th-century-style, is the farthest thing from her regime. She is a dictator only in the classical sense of the word.

So, when the Governor's term expires four years later, the New California conducts a two-stage election. In the first stage, the Governor offers Californians a new, post-democratic constitution designed to secure the permanent benefits of stable and effective imperial domination. If they (foolishly) reject this new, golden Empire of California, she offers them two choices.

One, she can select a new True Governor to continue the New California on a trial basis for another four years. This decision can be renewed indefinitely. The interim regime, while not permanent and not permanently stable (it is, after all, a democracy), can go on as long as it wants. It is the tool of the People; it is the People who are sovereign. Until they finally resign.

Two, she can restore the old political system of California - precisely as it was, even down to the individual judges and politicians. If the People of California want Jerry Brown and Stephen Reinhardt back, perhaps they deserve Jerry Brown and Stephen Reinhardt back. For the Lord works in mysterious ways, and collective punishment is not at all outside His philosophy.

And this is the structure of the plan: the true election. Convinced as I am of this strategy, I cannot imagine how regime change can be performed without it. Nor can I imagine how our present government can, without regime change, be repaired.

So this transition plan from democracy to Empire, our very own Augustan renewal, requires victory in two elections, both true in that victory rewards the winner with uncompromised imperium. Of course, the present voters of California (and everywhere else) have a complete spiritual dedication to their present rulers, and to democracy itself. Both these elections will be extremely hard to win. If either is lost, the entire transition fails.

The true election is immeasurably superior to all other plans for restoring good government in America, however. This is because if it succeeds, it will actually work. Making it succeed is, of course, far more difficult in principle than winning a normal election for the same position. Which is already extremely difficult. So why try?

Because difficult and impossible are very different things. Actually, I find it really quite amazing that anyone shows up at elections for the present system of government, or cares about it at all. To anyone who knows anything about Washington, the prospect of achieving any actual result by this means is nothing short of hilarious. Everything in Washington is designed to resist hostile political interference. Indeed, it is nourished by hostile political interference! When you try to defeat Democrats by electing Republicans, you're trying to drown a fish.

It is with Democratic actors in the show, as at present, that Washington languishes and looks weak. Conclusion: if a true election is not yet possible, do your best to keep the Democrats in office. They look dangerous and to some extent they are, but they are an old, old, dog. Their bark is a lot worse than their bite, and there's not even much left of the bark.

Therefore, a simple personal strategy that anyone who wants real political change can follow is this: begin an unconditional and permanent boycott of all normal, ie non-true, elections. Don't vote until you have a true election to vote in. Whoever or whatever is on the paper, you're just voting yes to Washington as it is today.

This strategy adopted, the question thus becomes: how does the true candidate win the first and second true elections? We'll look at the answer in the next UR post.

Thursday, March 18, 2010 59 Comments

Divine-right monarchy for the modern secular intellectual

UR is one madman's search for existential anomalies in conventional belief systems. An anomalous belief is one that everyone, or at least everyone sane, believes, which is simply wrong. The anomaly is existential if it entirely invalidates the entire belief system - or, at least, that field in which it resides.

If you discover such an anomaly, there are two possibilities. Either you are effectively insane, or everyone else is. For example, if you discover that our President, B. H. Obama, is in fact a giant alien predatory lizard, you are insane or everyone else is.

Fortunately, UR is not dedicated to critical analysis in presidential xenobiology, or quantum physics, or even mere philosophy. Rather, it restricts itself to economics, verse, programming, and 20th-century history. Mainly the last. And, of course, that your 20th-century history is bad does not mean your 19th-century history is any damned good. It probably isn't. And don't even start me on the 18th.

Let me throw a quick anomaly at you to explain where I'm coming from with this.

Globally, who is the most revered political figure of the present era? If you ask this question of a random sample of Americans, Americanized Europeans, etc, etc, a significant percentage will say: "Nelson Mandela." Moreover, and more important, almost all of those who chose someone else will agree that, yes, "Nelson Mandela" is a perfectly good answer to this question.

Try this experiment: get a friend of yours to agree with this statement. Then say: "okay. Now, pretend I'm an alien. To Planet Earth, I have just now come! And I don't know anything about Nelson Mandela. Really. Nothing at all. You say: Nelson Mandela is the most revered figure of the present political era. So tell me: who was Nelson Mandela? And what did he do?"

Although this objection may produce some elaboration, the odds are overwhelming that the first answer you receive will be phrased in entirely magical terms. For example, your friend might say: "Nelson Mandela led his people to freedom."

This sentence, which though wilfully egregious is not at all atypical, can be divided into four fragments: "Nelson Mandela," "led," "his people," and "to freedom." The first fragment is phrased in historical terms: "Nelson Mandela." The other three are entirely magical.

It is safe to assume that, by "Nelson Mandela," me, you and your friend mean the same historical individual. We can state as a definitive matter of history that some process somehow involving this individual, Nelson Mandela, brought about a transition in the government of South Africa, to wit: the transfer, in 1994, of effective sovereignty from the Nationalist Party, dominated largely by persons of Afrikaner descent, to the African National Congress, dominated largely by persons of sub-Saharan descent. Surely you, I, and your friend can agree on these facts.

Which is easy to take for granted. But absent in the case of many other magical figures in history - Romulus, Lycurgus, the Yellow Emperor, etc. The people who believed in Lycurgus and the Yellow Emperor, and there were many, did not even know if such individuals had ever existed. Or if they did - we don't. So Nelson Mandela certainly earns his first point in this category. He exists. He is therefore entitled to be mentioned in a history of the 20th century, and not just in the chapter of its public myths.

But in order to even begin to assess the magical parts of the claim, we have to interrogate the rest of the statement. For instance: "led." What was Nelson Mandela's personal responsibility in the movement to end apartheid? Was he, individually, the person Nelson Mandela, a figurehead, or an administrator, or both? He was certainly at least the first - Without Nelson Mandela, would apartheid still be firmly in the saddle? Or might some other figure have sufficed for the same purpose? Can an accurate account of history really canonize Nelson Mandela, or anyone, without asking basic questions of this sort?

Moreover, if we were to perceive that movement behind Nelson Mandela, without any particular interest in Nelson Mandela himself, how would we characterize it? The anti-apartheid movement does not mind being called by that name, but it was clearly in no way sui generis - for instance, it had substantial overlap with the antiwar movement, the green movement, etc; and nor is it restricted to the present, but extends indefinitely into the recent past.

If we wanted to describe this entire activist complex, perhaps across the entire 20th century, what would we even call it? (I have a name: "New Exeter Hall.") Surely, if you're going to canonize Nelson Mandela, you must first define and evaluate the cause of which he was a part. Anything can appear as good, if the good parts are defined without the bad. Somehow I suspect you have not heard from the prosecution in this case. (Perhaps the prosecutor was shot in a police-station bathroom.)

And then we have "his people." Whose people are Mandela's - and whose ain't? Please be specific. Or "to freedom." Which individuals have gained which life options from the transition from Nationalist to ANC rule? What were the oppressed peoples of South Africa allowed to do in 1995, which they weren't allowed to do in 1993? Please be specific. More broadly, who has experienced improved quality-of-government from this transition?

Surely, if Mandela is the greatest political leader of the era, through his own personal initiative he must have brought much better government to millions of people. Surely, if one sought an objective determination of the effect of changes in government on some group or groups X, you would say: did group or groups X experience better government under the old regime, or the new regime? Furthermore: was this result, if surprising, surprising to the entirety of humanity? Or were there some predicted it? If so, who were these accurate predictors?

Anyway. Nelson Mandela is not the subject of this post. But the point is: your friend actually knows nothing about Nelson Mandela, the historical figure. He cannot answer any of these questions.

What he knows is Nelson Mandela, the magical figure. He is experiencing history via magic. Nelson Mandela is not really a historical figure to him; Nelson Mandela is simply a saint in his TV-age religion, which like all major religions practices magical thinking. I urge you to cease and desist from this practice. It is detrimental to the neurons. You will feel much better when you are all done with it.

UR does not urge you to correct your historical interpretation of Nelson Mandela. (If you want to, start here. This book is not at present available in the United States. But it looks quite riveting.) UR does not urge you to replace your TV-age religion, at least not with another TV-age religion.

UR urges you to finish entirely with the TV age - and the radio age, and the penny-newspaper age, and even the pamphlet age. The 21st is a new century. It will think for itself. The digit change is arbitrary, I admit. But what excuse does the open mind need?

To be a rational human being, and to think about Nelson Mandela - or any other individual whose picture your children might find in their friendly local kindergarten - in the old, magical way, is simply to neglect your civic responsibility as a literate and civilized adult. A child acquires judgments by osmosis and keeps them by default. Adults can make an effort.

What we find when we abandon magical thinking in our interpretation of the 20th century is that we know nothing at all about it. The magic is merely a veil. It is of no importance at all. What matters is the absolute and unrelieved ignorance which your TV-delivered reality conceals. This ignorance is to be approached with great humility and respect; in it lies the lives of many men. Who, like Nelson Mandela, existed. Who, unusually for the historian, are living today.

No, this is not another South Africa post. Really. But I'd still like to mention a comment I saw recently, somewhere out there on the hairy-backed Boersphere. The poster, who I'll bet was a bit of a Nazi himself, recounted that he'd been talking to his aged father, who had flown with the RAF in World War II. "Son," his father said, or words to that effect, "I've finally realized what the problem is. I was fighting for the wrong side."

I don't believe this. Honestly, I don't believe any of the 20th-century wars were good wars on any side. I would have tried to stay out of them, on all sides.

Nonetheless, a British author has collected the perspectives of a large number of living World War II veterans, few of whom go quite so far as the aforementioned Afrikaner - but few of whom live in the new South Africa. If the selection is honest, almost all of those still living are amazed and horrified to see the results of the victory they fought for.

This reaction, however righteous or wrongtious (surely, old people are not always right, just because they're old - maybe they just don't get it) puts a blunt new twist on the latest blitz of World War II nostalgia. There is a terrible dishonesty in worshipping those of the past who would condemn you if they lived, and a still more terrible brazenness in doing so while some do live. This brazenness is in itself an existential anomaly. No one notices it. Who would?

This is the blindness of the migraine: a sparkled spot that does not not exist, until you look at it. And fail to see whatever was behind it. Surely something was? Ah, many whorls hides the spot. They can spill out, and cover a hemisphere. They will. Woe! Woe is us! Deeply-woven is the lie. It has no name until you name it.

So that you'll acknowledge a gaping, blatantly mortal wound in the magical 20th century (that is, the tissue of quasi-mythical heroes and villains that forms your narrative of this period), I'm going to clock you with another brutal hardball from out of left field: Israel.

Last time we asked: are you pro-black, or anti-black? Your support for the incredible PR deluge under which the old South Africa knuckled, though you thought it was pro-black, and you remember it as pro-black, actually turned out to be objectively anti-black. As in: you thought your kneejerk PR response, which various good hearts were playing like a violin, would have a positive material impact on the existence on South African blacks. But it actually had a negative material impact.

Which is not to say, of course, that the end of apartheid had no positive impact on South African blacks. It had a significant positive impact on South African blacks: an emotional impact.

Of course, this is not exactly a defense! Presumably the emotional impact of the change of government was based on the belief that, under the new, improved, black-staffed government, their lives would improve - relative to the old, bad, white-staffed one. (Or more precisely, the old, bad Dutchman-staffed one.) Since, on average, their lives did not improve and in fact got worse, you have compounded your mistake with the even more sinister act of deception.

But the winners write history. For now. And you celebrate your victory, which is nominally the victory of your client - "a man and a brother." However, suppose the net effects of this struggle, for whatever reason, leave said man and brother far worse off, in all measurable capacities and by simple inspection, than if you'd never been involved. You feel pretty good, however. Your government has certainly not gotten any worse!

Have you aided him? Of course you've aided him! You've withdrawn him from the clutches of your enemies - typically, other white people. White people just like you, only worse. Needless to say, any ill that comes to the man and a brother, in the battle or after, is their fault.

Thus, for instance, colonial Africa was substantially demolished, with countless millions of deaths, in the end of colonialism. In all measurable capacities and by simple inspection, it has nowhere near recovered. Naturally, both these assessments of the present (which almost everyone acknowledges) are accompanied by the caveat that all destruction and decay, present or past, is attributable in some magical sense to... wait for it... colonialism.

I mean - imagine postcolonialism debating colonialism on the subject. The former would be laughed out of the courtroom. The attacker is prosecuting the victim. But postcolonialism need not argue. For colonialism is dead; for no such court is ever held. Gentlemen, this is not a way to settle history! Sooner or later, the past must have its voice. There are no Mausers in the stacks. All those who dispute are dead as each other, and the worms alone prevail.

So again, in the consensus interpretation of present world history, we see an irrevocable commitment to magical thinking. But I digress. Israel. Here again we find an existential anomaly in your present history. The Israel anomaly is not just exclusive to the present political left; it exists all along the spectrum, exclusively on the far left and often on the far right.

The question this time is: are you pro-Israel, or anti-Israel? Which seems like an easy question. However, as we'll see, there are two entirely different ways to answer it, both of which are apparently correct, and which almost always conflict.

The first answer is the conventional answer. That is, if you support conservative policies on Israel, you are pro-Israel. If you support liberal or progressive policies on Israel, you are anti-Israel. Somewhere between these must be a bipartisan center, neither pro-Israel nor anti-Israel. Perhaps this center is the habitual position of our own dear State Department. Or perhaps State's Israel policies are too pro-Israel; or perhaps they are too anti-Israel. But we can easily see who is for Israel, and who is against it; and there must be a center between them.

Unlike the nature of Nelson Mandela, this judgment is not obviously magical and democratic in nature. In fact, the Israel problem appears so dry and bureaucratic, not to mention unsolvable, that it is the farthest possible thing from magic. Nonetheless, as we'll see, the political conflict in the Middle East is an entirely magical one. That is: the narrative of this conflict, not only as believed by the audience but also by the players, is a magical narrative like that of Mandela. The actual history of the 20th-century Middle East has nothing whatsoever to do with this narrative, and is entirely unknown by almost everyone.

You can see this easily. Why? Because the center of the American political spectrum is simply defined as the center of the Arab-Israeli conflict spectrum. There is no reason whatsoever to assume this correlation. For instance, it could be that all but the most extreme conventionally pro-Arab positions are in fact objectively pro-Israeli. Or vice versa.

Because there is a second way to ask whether you are pro-Israel or anti-Israel. Like our African dilemma before, this is an objective process which does not depend in any way on public opinion. The results conflict completely with your consensus political perception.

The objective polarity of your position is a function of the Middle Eastern policies you think your government, USG, should follow. This position is defined relative to an objective center, which is the classical position of neutrality, well-known to classical international law.

If you are neutral in a conflict, ideally, that conflict exists without you. You are careful to take no action which benefits one side more than the other. The parties to the conflict may be your neighbors, and if so you must conduct yourself quite carefully to produce the practical effect of equivalent nonexistence. Again: to be neutral in a conflict, is to allow that conflict to proceed without your own intervention active or passive.

Therefore, USG is pro-Arab if a shift to neutral policies, as defined above, would favor Israel. It is pro-Israeli if a shift to neutral policies, as defined above, would favor the Arabs. The effect of neutral policies is that USG has no impact whatsoever on the conflict.

Doesn't this sound like a reasonable objective position, which should be the same as the conventional position? Alas, it is anything but.

The problem is that the Arabs, who are militarily much weaker than the Israelis, are imposing territorial concessions on the Israelis. For "peace," the question is not whether the Israelis must cede land they now control the Arabs, but how much they must cede. This is a very unusual sort of peace, considering the military balance of power. Surely, there is no Arab or Islamic power or combination of powers that could win a war with Israel. With no other party in the equation, the IDF could be ruling the Middle East, from Fez to Islamabad, in a month and a half.

Surely this unseen dark planet, this behemoth Nemesis of the postwar solar system, can be none other than USG itself. Given American neutrality, Israel need no longer fear the Arabs, because if they cause any trouble she can conquer them from Fez to Islamabad. Given that the Arabs know this and are anything but stupid, they will make no further trouble. Peace in the Middle East - through the direct opposite of New Exeter Hall policies. Which, of course, have had the last 60 years to to try and solve the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Therefore, we come to the following conclusions about the Arab-Israeli conflict. One: the mainstream US position is objectively pro-Arab and anti-Israeli. Two: US involvement is at least plausibly the cause of the conflict. Three: the conflict is best described as a conflict between the US and Israel, with the former's policies directed by its pro-Palestinian ruling classes, and the latter's contended between the pro-American left and the anti-American right.

Again, you can sort out later what to make of this alternative narrative. The point is that my "objective" interpretation of the Middle East problem is (a) at least somewhat compelling, and (b) completely incompatible with almost everyone's perception of reality.

Now, frankly, where you find one cockroach, you typically don't find just one. We've found two. We could wander around the beer cans and pizza crusts of the 20th century, slapping the Blattidae here and there, for as long as we wanted. But do we want that? No? We're busy people. Therefore, we'd like to find the nest - the fundamental misconception that leads naturally to all the rest.

One thing I like to try to do is remember my original reaction, as a child in the '70s and '80s, to the present history of the world as revealed to me then by educational sources of unquestionable, or at least unquestioned, reliability.

Of course, I could be just making this up. It is hard to tell. But I distinctly recall wondering: why did it take so long for human progress to achieve democracy? After all, you have many centuries of extremely sophisticated European Renaissance and post-Renaissance thought. Yet the victory of democracy on the European continent was not complete and assured until the lives of those now living. In England, it was not complete and assured until the 20th century. Only in America was it old, and even then not that old. And then there was the Roman Empire... and so on.

Moreover, I learned, in the real world today, there were only two real alternatives. Democracy, or Hitler. Or Stalin. Democracy or tyranny. Yet when I read the history of Europe before the 20th century, ie, the century of democracy, I did not see anyone or anything like Hitler or Stalin.

What, exactly, is the difference - as a matter of political organization - between the regime of Queen Elizabeth, and that of Hitler? Democracy puts both in the same category: nondemocracy. Absolute personal despotism, to be exact. But... there is a difference, isn't there?

All these objections are neatly summed up in Churchill's famous aphorism, if it is really Churchill's. Democracy, whose flaws are not in any way secret, appears to you as the worst of all systems of government, except for all the others. And what do you know of all the others? Nothing at all, of course. (Or at least, nothing nonmagical.) Hence the statement sounds true, because it is true. So far as you know. That migraine spot again!

There's a hypothesis forming here. We notice that all our blind spots seem to be in the general area of political democracy. Where they lead to misimpressions, those impressions tend to cast democracy in a falsely positive light. What if democracy was like communism? What if, for everything and anything in the world today that is broken, we could say accurately: it is broken because it is democratic. To fix it, get rid of democracy.

This appears unthinkable, of course, to you. You were raised as a true democrat. Note that if you'd been raised a true Communist, you would have perceived Communism in just the same way. And, of course, Catholicism, and Islam, and so on. But Communism (which is in fact best seen as a splinter branch of the global democratic movement) is the best analogy, because it is so recent.

No, comrades, Communism is not the problem! Communism? The problem? On the contrary, comrades - Communism is the cure! We suffer, not because we have been true to Communism, but because we have been untrue to Communism! To get back on the right track, comrades, we must redouble our efforts to achieve Communism... and so on.

I think of this when I hear anyone acting under the delusion that they can restore the American political system, presumably to some imagined youthful vitality. The American political system! The true nature of that system, gentlemen, is now quite apparent. Long has it battened on the rest of the planet; its final dessert is now apparent. As any epidemiologist would expect, America was that country most resistant to American democracy. Resistance is not immunity. In the end, every elm must meet its beetle.

So this is a quick and easy general-purpose explanation which can shed light on a remarkable variety of apparent historical anomalies. As a people, we believe insane things, because democracy has driven us all insane. After all, it's had two hundred years to do so. Its edifice of magical thinking is a wonderful thing, ornate as a Disney castle, more worthy of admiration than destruction. Sadly, it is the castle of evil, and God's sweet fire will melt it in a flash.

Here are three words that will permanently cure you of democracy - if any three words can. Imperium is conserved.

That is: no form of government can be defined as un-government or self-government. There is always a government; there is always a process by which this government makes decisions; this process always consists of the decisions of one or more human beings, and no other party or force. Therefore, either you rule, or you are ruled by others. Typically the latter. As Maine writes in Popular Government: "democracy is a form of government." In other words, it lacks any spiritual connotation; like any form of government, it can only be judged by its results.

As who writes? In what? Here is one old book that can cure you, if any old book can: Popular Government (1885), by Sir Henry Maine. Read it once. Read it twice. Read it three times. It's free. It explains everything, just about. Well, not quite - but almost. Once you've read Maine, perhaps you are ready for Filmer. And with just those two, you can be right back on track! Of course, the 21st century may start to strike you as pretty bizarre. But it is, you know.

But if old books are not your scene, once again: imperium is conserved. Taking this as our lodestar, we have no trouble in diagnosing the fundamental disease of democracy. The condition (which is incurable) is imperial decay - that is, the broadening of the decision process, from a single executive decision to a universal-suffrage election.

The democrat, who is typically also an aristocrat, thinks or allows himself to think that, by dethroning the king and transferring the king's powers to an assembly, he is destroying the sovereign imperium. But he is not; he is only dispersing it.

If some alliance of democrats so much as renders the king subject to the rule of law, they are transferring the king's judicial powers not to no one, but to a concrete human body - a judiciary. They have fragmented the imperium and produced the constitutional solecism of imperium in imperio. Their monarchy is certainly doomed, at least in any substantive sense. And thus men laid, centuries ago, the foundation for all our feral subway yoofs. Imperium fragments irreversibly and entropically - monarchy descending to oligarchy, oligarchy to aristocracy, aristocracy to democracy, democracy to mere anarchy.

Which fruit has taken many a year to ripen. But what a fruit it is! Now, at last, we see it in its glory. No other recent day knew such a thing. Yoofs! As St. Exupery wrote in the '40s:
For centuries, humanity has been descending an immense staircase whose top is hidden in the clouds and whose lowest steps are lost in a dark abyss. We could have ascended the staircase; instead we chose to descend it.
At the bottom of the stairs: anarchy, hell, Haiti, Mogadishu, Lagos. For you they are waiting! For you, for you, for you, these hells! For you! Stop on the stairs; listen quietly; hear Mogadishu, in the blackness below, reeking of piss, waiting for you; purring; licking her chops. She wants you. You! And your family! Anarchy is hungry, hungry, always hungry. Insatiable. Yet patient.

And at the top? Versailles. Louis XIV. Elizabeth I. The greatness of Britain. The greatness of Europe. The fire of yesterday, untarnished by time! The glory of princes! Cardinals, in their red hats! Black-robed Jesuits, terrible, intense! Against them, the burning martyrs of the Reformation! What a world! A gleaming, cloud-borne Olympia in the blue, far above our wet gray reality. Gentlemen, we have only our butts to turn around. Why not climb, and fast? Two steps in a jump? Three?

No, there is a problem. It cannot be done. Imperium is conserved; imperium decays. And cannot, in any way, be made to undecay. Cold does not flow to hot; power does not shrink; we cannot climb the stairs. At most sit on them, and shiver in the deep fog. Waiting. Sooner or later, Mogadishu will ascend. Must we come to it? It will come to us. Sooner or later. Sooner...

No! There is one desperate way - and one only. Having descended for centuries, shambling, sitting, resting, going on - we cannot climb. Fast or slowly, at a walk or at a run. Climbing is impossible; ascent is essential; there is only one way. We must leap, in one bound, to the top. The asymmetry is fundamental. Obey it.

Divine-right monarchy is very easy to understand, even for an atheist like me. We have already derived it. To an atheist, the King's authority must be absolute, not because he is appointed by God, but because he is appointed by no one. If someone appoints him, that man is King. If their roles are divided - the famous "balance of powers" or "checks and balances" - they will struggle, and one or the other prevail. Probably the many over the few.

Thus we see high tempers and fisticuffs in the chambers of state. The mice must be governed by the elephants, but all this trumpeting and trunk-lashing alarms them. What if they begin to stomp. As imperium decays, the State becomes conflicted and incompetent, incapable of making good decisions or any at all. And at worst, of course, it actually fights itself.

Thus the modern divine-right monarchist says, not that God has chosen any person or family to rule, but that sovereignty exists and someone must hold it. The more narrowly and stably held the imperium is, the safer it is.

The emphasis on stability is essential, because this answers the question we asked earlier: the difference between Hitler and Louis XIV. The difference is that the famous dictatorships of the 20th century were not stable royal dynasties, or anything close; they rested entirely on the personal position of the dictator, whose absolute authority concealed contending factions at all times, and could at any time have shattered into those factions. If the mere death of a single human being, for instance, can result in regime change, a regime cannot be regarded as stable. It thus exists in a state of permanent if suspended civil war. This is very far from Filmer, and it can quite reasonably be expected to result in a gruesome variety of tyrannous manifestations, as of course was seen in the 20th century.

A Bourbon Gulag or a Tudor Holocaust are entirely inconceivable. Even St. Bartholomew's was a peccadillo by the standards of a Marat, a Lenin or a Mao. Why? Because imperium is conserved. A stable monarch has no reason to massacre the Jews or shoot the Old Bolsheviks. Being stable, holding a monopoly of power, he has nothing to fear. Stalin and Hitler did. Hence, tyranny results not from the concentration of imperium, but from its dispersal.

It matters, of course, who holds the scepter. But it does not matter as much as you think - so long as that individual is competent and sane. When we look at what Hitler did with Germany between 1933 and 1939, for instance, we tend to say: "but on the other hand, he killed the Jews." Of course, Augustus held exactly the same position in Rome. If he killed the Jews, history does not record it. Hitler was a maniac; Augustus was not a maniac. We know what Augustus did.

Cannot we marvel at what the Third Reich achieved, with the knowledge that it was run by a maniac? In the hands of a non-maniac, what might it have done? In the hands of an Augustus, for instance? Well, somewhere in Germany in 1933, there might have been an Augustus or two. Or even three. But Germany in 1933 was a democracy. And that democracy elected not Augustus, not Frederick the Great, not even Kaiser Bill. It elected -

Wait. Who did it elect? Gee. I've forgotten already. I hate these migraines. An Austrian, I think. A sergeant? A private first-class? Someone like that. A man of the people, that's for sure. History is so confusing.

Thursday, March 11, 2010 41 Comments

The future of search

There are many reasons I'm grateful to Josh Hall for inviting me to the Foresight conference, but one of the main ones is that now, I get to advertise myself as a genuine expert on the Future.

I realized this when a small party, including both Professor Hanson and I, went to one of the Stanford strip-malls for a deli lunch. "So what are you guys speaking about?" asked a lady in the line. A fiftyish Palo Alto tennis wife. "What?" I said. "What? How about some ether?" Then I looked down, and noticed that someone had stuck a "Speaker" tag on my "Foresight 2010" badge. There was only one possible answer. "The Future," I said.

And when I think of the Future, I am of course reminded of one of the real speakers at Foresight - the incorrigible Paul Saffo, who is perhaps one of the five glibbest people on the planet. When Paul Saffo opens his mouth, you see hundred-dollar bills - rowed-up like a shark's jaw. Paul Saffo is not a dumb guy by any means, but his benjamin flow is definitely in rather than out. I keep telling my wife I'm working on it.

At the risk of sounding like Paul Saffo, I have a subject that I think will please the general UR community: the future of search. The Future of Search! Are we ready for that? Can we go there? The Future of Search? Or is this just too presumptuous?

While apparently a prominent expert on the Future, I actually know nothing at all about Search. Frankly, the problem has never really interested me. Nothing in software is really interesting except system software design. Search (at least, search as we know it) is a heuristic algorithm - a class of solution for which both education and career have taught me nothing but contempt.

In short, as an ancient system software guy (I started CS grad school in Berkeley the same year Sergey Brin started at Stanford), my attitude toward search is much that of a cavalry officer toward the machine-gun. A Victorian cavalry officer. I can tell you exactly what I thought the first time I heard about full-text search: it made me think of library science. In fact, it still does.

So in reality, I am anything but an expert on either Future or Search - let alone the Future of Search. Rather, I confess some expertise as to the Past; and I know a thing or two about Protocols, Kernels, Languages, etc, etc. On Past Kernels I am really at my best. With that said, let's look at the Future of Search.

There is only one real question about the Future of Search. Will it be Google, or won't it? And if it won't be, what will it be? In other words: who kills Google, and how? Or is the Google Age doomed to last forever?

Since I have been kicking around this town for almost twenty years, I have seen the colossi come and go. The Google of 20 years ago, for instance, was SGI. Where is SGI now? Managed into the ground. (As it so happens, Blogger videos were recently broken for over two weeks. Reading that thread, I see instantly that Google has no concept whatsoever of QA. And perhaps that works for you, Google! Or perhaps it's worked in the past. But...)

The Google Age could end just because Google grows old and sclerotic, despite its vast pool of brains, and starts regularly screwing up like this. In this case, it will be replaced by a younger, crisper Google. This matter does not really interest me - a mere corporate transition. (Anyway, despite little crap like this, Google is still so far as I can tell an extremely effective operation.)

As a pseudo-expert on the Future of Search, I cannot tell you when the Google Age will end, or who will end it. All I can tell you is what will end it. This is probably what you wanted to know, anyway.

The Google Age will end when the application we presently know as "search" is replaced by some other application, which does the same job for the user, but (a) does it much better, and (b) does it in a way that leaves no role for Google or anything so profitable.

Ancient geek that I am (my first tech bubble was the CD-ROM bubble), I have seen this process dozens of times. It's called commoditization. Google makes money because search is extremely difficult to implement, and just about impossible to implement well. It makes money in the only righteous way: solving a hard but necessary problem.

But once this problem becomes easy, such a company has a tough time of it - even if that company itself defined the problem and led the market in solving it. Even if that company itself makes the problem. For instance: if search becomes easy to implement, users start expecting ad-free search. Problem goes away; company goes away.

And Google - a collection of atomic individuals, really in fact among humanity's finest, who have at great profit to themselves clustered together on Earth's surface, in this place, under this name, eating this lunch, to solve the problem of ad-supported search - dissipates into air, like spirits, like smoke, like time itself. Where are the SGIs of yesteryear? There were so many good people at SGI.

Nonetheless, commoditization has not happened to Google. It is not about to happen. Because as anyone at Google (or any of its competitors, none of which is anywhere near killing it) can tell you - search is and will always be very, very, very hard. At least, search as we know it.

Commodity search, if there is any such thing, is clearly the Future of Search. But commodity search cannot be search as we know it. It cannot be the same technical problem that today we know as "search." That is, it cannot be the library-science problem which Google is solving. Rather, it must be a generic utility.

Commodity or utility search must be a solution to some different problem, which fulfills roughly the same user need as Google search. Clearly, utility search can only be system software: a platform, not an algorithm. At least, so my prejudices inform me!

What is search doing, anyway? The search experience I, the user, need: I type a line of text into a box. In response, I get a list of links relevant to that text, listed in order of importance.

Of course, producing this metric - importance - is the hard problem in search. The problem of crawling and indexing the Web, while unnecessarily annoying due to certain design mistakes by Tim B-L, is not a hard problem. Okay, it is a hard problem. But it is not a really hard problem, and it was solved well before Google.

Importance is a product of two factors: relevance and reputation. Relevance is nontrivial, but not hard. Reputation is hard. At least, as the problem is presently defined.

As everyone knows, the very hard problem that Google is solving is computing global reputation (ie, PageRank) from the graph of all HTML links on the Web. Its algorithms are now considerably more refined than the original PageRank, of course. But the problem is what it is.

In this problem as defined by the age of Google, just distinguishing between actual content and spam is a difficult problem. Google is not a good producer of reputation data. It is a competent producer of reputation data - at best. And given the problem that Google is solving, mere competence is almost a miracle.

The Google Age ends when the Internet migrates to some new global reputation algorithm, and users switch to it for their searches. To trigger any such switch, the new algorithm must suck less, maybe by an order of magnitude. There is only one way of beating Google this badly: change the problem.

The obvious such change is some systematic advance to some form of editorial reputation - ie, a reputation system in which reputation is generated not by passive algorithms, but by proactive human assessment. For example, consider one of the great achievements of Russian post-medievalism: Peter the Great's Table of Ranks. If we could hire Peter the Great to crawl the Web and assign a rank to every page, we could get rid of Google.

Feudal search is exactly this: a different way to compute global reputation. Which does not require either Google, or Peter the Great. If feudal is too strong a word for you, you can say hierarchical. Feudal search is search which uses, as its quality metric, hierarchical reputation.

We cannot hire Peter the Great to crawl the Web. We can, however, force everyone to join a community. We can ask that community what it thinks of you; and we can ask Peter the Great what he thinks of that community. This puts far less load on Peter the Great.

But wait - we still don't have Peter the Great. We can't actually force people to join a community. No, but we can create a general-purpose namespace of extremely consistent general quality, which will attract high traffic from the legacy Web and thus be highly searchable, even through Google.

In other words, feudal search posits a content namespace which, because ranked feudally, is a much more desirable neighborhood than the Internet. At least, if you don't want to wallow in the slums, you don't have to. You will not turn the digital corner and find yourself in a digital favela. Eventually, all desirable content will move out of the anarchic slums and into this new, happy gated community. And junkies will be shooting up in the old Google building.

A feudal search engine (Feudle, perhaps) separates the task of reputation assignment into two levels. Feudle assigns reputation not to pages, but to communities - a much smaller task. For pages within a community, it defers strictly to the community's own reputation system, connecting directly to it with an actual, standard API.

Thus we have two reputation values, perhaps on the unit interval, which multiplied produce another unit - global reputation. More generally, every search engine assigns every community a reputation transform, effectively grading its grades.

Thus, as a user, my map of global reputation gives high ratings to high-reputation pages at high-reputation communities, medium ratings to high-reputation pages at low-reputation communities, etc. Doesn't it seem to you that this makes sense?

Feudal search is feudal because, rather than computing a single democratic algorithm on the global, unstructured Web, it follows the natural hierarchical structure of all human institutions. Rather than passively computing rank from the random patterns of interaction in an atomized society, provide the institutions necessary for that society to recompose itself in an organized, aristocratic hierarchy. And stand back - the result will work a lot better.

Moreover, the analogy is historically correct. Just as it is not the king's business to involve himself in a dispute between two serfs of the same baron, it is not Feudle's business to decide which Blogger blogs are the best blogs. It is only the king's business if two of his barons quarrel. Likewise, Feudle must compute the value of a Blogger reputation versus a Wordpress reputation. Like an admissions department deciding that an Andover B is worth as much as a Montclair High A, it might decide that a Blogger A is worth a Wordpress B - or vice versa.

To continue the metaphor, Feudle's job is easy because, rather than computing the quality of every high-school student in America, it only needs to compute the quality of every high school in America. It still needs a quality-rating algorithm, but this algorithm rates communities rather than their members. A much smaller problem. Of course, Feudle cannot exist today, because neither Blogger nor Wordpress, like hippie high-schools, assign their bloggers grades.

If Feudle is such a great idea, why hasn't anyone built it? There is no way to grade the grades, because there are no grades to begin with. The trick about feudal search is that, since it's a platform, it faces a large chicken-egg problem. This is normal in system software. If your new language has no libraries, no one will use it. If no one uses the language, why write a library for it? Thus, since there is no local feudal reputation, there can be no global feudal reputation. Since there is no global feudal reputation, there is not much use for local feudal reputation.

The Web is just not optimized for feudal search. It is optimized for Google search. For one thing, feudal search requires a feudal search-reputation protocol - which doesn't exist. Even if the protocol existed, the information behind it is often absent. Even local reputation on the Internet is anything but a solved problem.

For instance, Blogger is not in any sense a community, and it has nothing like a communal reputation system. Or rather, its reputation system is Google PageRank. (Last time I checked, I got the impression Google hates UR for its long posts - it assumes a blog with 10K-word posts is a spamblog. Bing knows we're the real deal, and brings up UR as the first choice if you type "unq." I will always love Google, however, for the fact that "true history of the American Revolution" produces, as first match, the true history of the American Revolution.)

If Blogger had a reputation system, Feudle could exist - indeed, Google, which after all owns and operates Blogger, might even stop using PageRank on Blogger pages and rely on Blogger reputations. But, of course, Blogger has no reputation system and Feudle does not exist. Chicken-and-egg.

So nothing like Feudle exists or can exist. You cannot go to Paul Graham and apply to start up Feudle as a startup. The world is not even ready to begin to be ready for feudal search. What, therefore, convinces me that it is.. the Future?

While I am no Paul Saffo, I actually do have one test for whether I expect something to be around in the Future. Actually, it is two tests: one for things that exist, and one for things that don't.

For things that exist, I ask: if this didn't exist, would anyone invent it? For things that don't exist, I ask: if this existed, could anything kill it? Thus I conclude that newspapers as we know them will cease, sometime in the Future, to exist. And I conclude that feudal reputation systems are, somewhere out there, the Future of the Internet.

Another way to say this is that I'm convinced that, if these systems existed, they would grow stronger rather than weaker. Since they do not exist, the incentive to create them must be quite weak, which means they must be not that useful. However, they should experience a network effect: as they organize, they grow larger, stronger and more desirable, sucking in both traffic and content. Eventually, there will simply be no content worth searching which remains outside this network.

Let's narrow in on the Internet's feudal future by looking, again, at Blogger. Blogger is actually a microcosm of the Internet, because it is not in any sense a community. Rather, it is a general-purpose service. There is no sense in which blogs A and B are closer to each other because they both use Blogger, not Wordpress.

In the Feudal Age, Blogger as it stands today would do quite poorly as a community. It is not, of course, a community. It would have no way to assign its blogs high-quality local reputations, and therefore would not earn high global reputation. Therefore, any high-quality bloggers on it would promptly flee to other communities in which their talents would be recognized. This would further decrease the communal reputation of Blogger, and so on - basically a power-dive on flames into the Pacific.

What could Blogger do to avoid this fiery end? Up its game, of course. Specifically, before its bloggers flee to greener pastures, it would have to replicate the problem of feudalizing teh Internets, within its vast network of existing blogs.

It can only do this by replicating the feudal solution internally. Socially, Blogger is not and cannot be a single community. Or rather: as a single community, it could only be a totalitarian dictatorship. For instance, if Blogger was a single community, either left-wing political bloggers would dominate right-wing political bloggers, or vice versa. Expecting to integrate wingnuts and moonbats into a single community is like expecting to integrate alligators and peccaries into a single zoo exhibit. And this is just the start.

Rather, assessment gets better as it gets narrower. Basketball blogs can only be graded, presumably by other basketball bloggers, relative to other basketball blogs. They certainly cannot be compared to UR - which is not a very good basketball blog. (Disqus makes this mistake by assigning commenters global reputation across all Disqus comments; each forum should assign its own rank, or no one can possibly take the process seriously.)

To produce a high-quality reputation signal, Blogger must self-categorize. As a single community, it is a joke; for its reputations to matter, they must be accurate; for them to be accurate, they must be local; for them to be local, Blogger must fragment itself into hundreds, if not thousands, of self-rating communities. Each of these communities must perform its own quality control, and be rewarded for achieving quality by a communal grade across the whole service.

For instance - this suggestion, while nowhere near appropriate, is perhaps more appropriate than one might think - Blogger could adopt another content characterization, one into which enormous human effort was invested: the Usenet newsgroup hierarchy. It could say: blogs in Blogger are now organized into guilds, each of which is named after a newsgroup in the main Usenet hierarchy. Pick a newsgroup, and join its guild.

In each of these guilds, however organized, bloggers must be in some way ranked anonymously by their peers. If this devolves into a poisonous and corrupt travesty, as of course any such process can, it is time for a new guild. However, guilds are expected to function as aristocracies; it is in the interest of the entire guild to obtain a good reputation, and most of all in the interest of the guild's leaders.

Therefore, in the Future, if you are blogging for the public audience and want random strangers to find and read your blog (not every blogger does, of course), you will have to find some category or community in which you feel it belongs, and submit your blog for review by your peers in that category. Or, of course, create a new community if none suits you. Standard technology for this purpose must exist.

How is the reputation of an online clothing store determined? How is the reputation of an Internet poet determined? The poets must get together and evaluate each others' poetry. The online clothing stores must get together and evaluate each others' products and customer service. In short, they must form guilds. An elegant medieval social structure, which functioned beautifully for many centuries. Applicable to any form of content for which anyone might be searching - right down to commercial advertising.

In general, to have a reputation in the Feudal Age, you have to be part of something larger. You must either join some community which can assign you some reputation, or organize a new community of your own. As an isolated atom, you are scum by definition. You belong in the stocks, and you'll probably end up there. (We'll know teh Internets are dead when everyone who still uses them is a spammer.)

This effective communal coercion is good, not bad. Because the upside is: you don't have to be an isolated atom. You're a human being, a communal animal - you have to join, but you can join. Since these communities have to exist, they do exist. As a result, you can start producing content and acquire an accurate reputation very quickly and easily. If you're a poet, other poets will read your poetry. If you're a filmmaker, other filmmakers will watch your films. If you're a clothing designer, other clothing designers will try on your clothes. (If this costs money, you will have to pay for it.) And if all these someones are idiots, it is time to start your own guild!

And for the user - the poor schmuck behind the browser, who is, after all, the customer - the search experience is improved by roughly a bazillion. With Feudle, the reputation mechanism that orders his hits is not a heuristic algorithm, but a human process - facilitated, of course, by system software. Rank is not an algorithm, but a grade. To satisfy the customer's needs, all at all levels are working hard to get good grades.

The crucial fact about the Feudal Age is that, in that age, the Internet becomes deatomized. It does not get organized by Google. It is not passively organized. It actively organizes itself - which means ranking itself. The resulting ranks, since they follow the natural structure of human authority, are much more accurate than anything Google's algorithms can produce. As a result, Google dissipates in smoke etc. And Google, perhaps, is the least of it!

As for how it has to start: feudal reputation can only start from the bottom up. That is: communities must migrate from shitty tools, which don't support reputation, to good ones that do. Perhaps something like StackExchange is the beginning of the trend...