Category Archives: history

Science Fiction, Cool War and Civil War

Science fiction – or more accurately, speculative fiction –  has a rich tradition of exploring What if... scenarios, exploring alternative paths of important historical events, asking questions such as, “What if the South had won the Civil War?” or “What if America had lost World War II?”

Just a few of the multitude of novels diving into divergent paths for the American Civil War include Harry Turtledove’s The Guns of the South, Terry Bisson’s Fire on the Mountain, and Ward Moore’s Bring the Jubilee. The recent, best-selling Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters posits that the Civil War never happened and slavery persists in regions of America. Even politician Newt Gingrich has written in this genre: his novel Gettysburg, co-written with William R. Forstchen, explores how history might have unfolded if the Confederacy had won this crucial battle. In a more outlandish speculation, William Forstchen’s Lost Regiment series, beginning with Rally Cry, envisions a Civil War era Union regiment transported through time and space to an alien world.

But science fiction more often projects into the future. Something deeply human keeps us both fascinated and worried about tomorrow’s dangers. Several recent novels have foreshadowed a possible – and plausible – hot phase of the recurring American Civil War. I’ve written extensively about what I view as ongoing Phases of our American Civil War; luckily most segments of this persistent animosity have been tepid or cool, though the 1860s fever was near devastating. Indeed, I fear, with current tensions, the possibility that something could go volcanic. This was portrayed – in retrospect – by my post-apocalyptic novel The Postman, which has been receiving a surge of attention lately, for its depiction of “holnists” whose rationalizations sound very much like those of Steve Bannon.

One novel I’ve touted lately is Tears of Abraham, by Sean T Smith, which chillingly takes you toward a disturbingly hot second Civil War, a deadly struggle of countryman against countryman. What would happen if the U.S. split apart into warring states — set off by a far-reaching conspiracy? A president who declares martial law as states take steps toward secession. This page turner offers vivid, believable action and characters, along with sober, thoughtful insights into what it may mean — when the chips are down — to be an American. What divides us… and what unites us?

This seems particularly relevant considering the deep divides across America during the election cycle of 2016, where Red States and Blue States were more bifurcated than ever, seemingly unable to fully comprehend the opinions and problems of their own neighbors.

220px-TheCoolWarAnother science fiction vision that came to mind, given evidence of recent efforts by foreign powers to sabotage our democracy and economy, is The Cool War, published by science fiction master Frederik Pohl back in 1981. This tale portrays ongoing slow-simmering international tensions, a series of shadow wars where rival countries seek to sabotage the economy and markets of their enemies — and allies. In fact, I deem no novel to be of more immediate pertinence to any member of our defense and intelligence communities.

Wars, cool, cold or hot? David Rothkopf, editor of Foreign Affairs, distinguishes them, commenting, “The purpose of the Cold War was to gain an advantage come the next hot war or, possibly, to forestall it. The purpose of Cool War is to be able to strike out constantly without triggering hot war, while making hot wars less desirable (much as did nuclear technology during the Cold War days) or even necessary.”

51YXFeqOcQL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In a similar vein, the near-future thriller Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War by P.W. Singer and August Cole envisions a revived Cold War, with rising tensions between the United States, China and Russia. An all-too believable war played out not just on land and sea, but also in space and cyberspace.

Returning to parallel universes, Philip K. Dick’s alternate history of World War II,  The Man in the High Castle — follows a scenario where the Nazis have won the war; it has been vividly adapted in the recent television series of the same name by Amazon. I’ve also explored that dark aftermath where the Nazis won World War II in my graphic novel, The Life Eaters. Connie Willis has revisited World War II in her novel, Blackout. Three time travelers find themselves stranded in London during the Blitz, facing air raids and bombing raids.

Another book just hitting the shelves –  American War by Omar El Akkad – is a dystopian novel about a Second American Civil War breaking out in 2074. The United States has been largely undone by devastating ecological collapse, a presidential assassination, the onset of a virulent plague arising from a weaponized virus, and a militantly divided North and South. The novel vividly portrays a doomed country wracked by vicious guerrilla raids, refugee camps interning displaced citizens, accompanied by relentless violence and death.

Whew! One can only hope that dark visions from these nightmarish scenarios might serve as self-preventing prophecies — much as George Orwell’s prophetic 1984 girded many to fight against the rise of any possible Big Brother to their last breath. Can we resist the divisions that threaten our country?

Indeed, our civilization’s ultimate success may depend on our foresight — perceiving potential problems we are able to navigate, mistakes we manage to avoid. Science fiction has often served to shine a light to reveal possible — and catastrophic — pitfalls in our shared future.

Warnings we would be wise to heed… and wounds we would be wise to heal.

 

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A defense of liberalism

 

Lest the media’s obsession with bad news suggest that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, Harvard Professor of Psychology  Steven Pinker argues in an interview that things have actually gone a lot better over recent centuries, and at an accelerating pace:

“A shift in the summum bonum, or the highest good, towards loose humanism, where life is better than death, education better than ignorance, health better than sickness,” he says, “is what I believe we are seeing currently.”

Pinker’s historic and statistical analysis that violence is on a continuing downward trend is expanded upon in his 2011 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, where he discusses factors such as globalization, a shift in value systems, the increased quality of life, particularly for women and children, as well as the profound driving force of the rational ideas of the Enlightenment.

And yet, Pinker notes, “Since we are tribal creatures, there is always the temptation to backslide.” A temptation we must resist.

Progress-happensProgress has happened and continues to happen… in our attitudes toward the environment, toward racial discrimination, toward equal rights for women, toward greater awareness of LGBTQ issues… and gradually toward leveling economic inequality.

Yet so many wallow in nostalgia. Often nostalgia for a past that never was. America was built by men and women who dreamed and built, who believed – and believe – in something called progress, in negotiating positive solutions for a better future. For all.

Why do more highly educated people veer toward liberalism? The Pew Research Center recently released a study showing that nearly a third of those who went to graduate or professional school maintain liberal views on social, economic and environmental matters, whereas this is true for just one in 10 Americans generally. “An additional quarter of postgrads have mostly liberal views. These numbers reflect drastic change: While professionals have been in the Democratic column for a while, in 1994 only 7 percent of postgrads held consistently liberal political opinions,” reports Neil Gross in The New York Times.

This might have been interesting as the introduction to an article about the topic. But the article failed to explore this thread in more depth. Though one thing is clear — highly educated people are more cognizant of time horizons that encompass a recognition of change.

altruistic-horizonsWhen the ambient fear level is high, as in civil war riven Syria, loyalties are kept close to home. Me against my brother. My brother and me against my cousins. We and our cousins against the world. Alliances merge and are broken quickly, along a sliding scale that appears to be remarkably consistent.

The general trend seems to be this: the lower the ambient fear level declines, the more broadly a human being appears willing to define those tribal boundaries, and the more generous he or she is willing to be toward a stranger. See this explored in my earlier article: Altruistic Horizons: Our tribal natures, the ‘fear effect,’ and the end of ideologies.

Michael Shermer has expanded in more detail upon the profound influence of rising levels of rationality and reasoning on our morality in his book, The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom. Shermer, the founder and director of The Skeptics Society, argues powerfully that we are living in the most moral and just period of our entire history, largely as a result of the Scientific Revolution and the Age of Reason and their impact on human society. The expansion of this moral sphere has led to widespread democracy, civil rights, and greater justice for more of humanity. (As well as rising standards of living and improved health and sanitation.)

change-nostalgia-1The world was different in the past. That is not just a reason for nostalgia but also for recognition that change will continue. That change must continue. (The kind  of disruptive change that makes science fiction by far the most pertinent literature of our era.)

Liberalism is an attempt to harness and steer change. Hence it is not leftist per se… Marx thought that steering history was futile!  It is this belief that we can refashion ourselves and society using tools of discourse and/or science that makes the educated liberal.

Well… yes… compassion and empathy, too. But it is no accident that free enterprise, markets, entrepreneurship – all desiderata that supposedly the right cares about – do far better when liberals are managing the state.

Sorry, it is a blatant and overwhelming fact, Jack.

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Phases of the American Civil War

dogma-pragmatismI frequently refer to our current era of American politics as the latest phase of the U.S. Civil War… in part because the political maps so blatantly copy a pattern that goes back almost 200 years. Cyclically, we find ourselves mired in dogma, instead of pragmatism, intransigent hatred instead of negotiation, nostalgia and romanticism, instead of belief that we can craft a better tomorrow.

Illustrating that others see this same breakdown, New York Magazine carried an article, A Southern GOP Can’t Be the Party of Lincoln, decrypting how – politically – there seem always to have been two Americas. The Nixonian “Southern Strategy” flip changed the banners of the two sides, and Blue-vs-Gray has become Blue-vs-Red. Still, Jonathan Chait does a fair job of showing how consistent the political map has been.

This article, while mostly true and overall correct, misses a couple of key points.  First, the social movement called the “confederacy” has been at this for a long time.

civil-war-burnsPhase one of the American Civil War took place in the South, during the Revolution, when the British found their strongest support among Loyalist/Tory militias in Georgia and the Carolinas.  It was Scots-Irish hill settlers who tipped the balance in that struggle, toward what would become the American Experiment.

Phase two featured a period when southern politicians grew ever stronger in control of the U.S. federal government.  True, Andrew Jackson clamped down on John C. Calhoun’s secessionism, in the 1830s, and kept the nation together. But Mr. Chait is correct that Jackson’s overall sentiments were what we might call “confederate.” Indeed, southern control over levers of power only grew until, by 1860, five of the nine Supreme Court justices were slave-owners.

PAST-civil-warThis extended through the next phase, starting in 1852, when the Fugitive Slave Act turned the division violent.  Swarms of small units of southern irregular cavalry commenced rampaging across northern states, seizing anyone they wanted as an “escaped slave.” These raider squadrons had the support of U.S. Marshals who were appointed by mostly-southern presidents. When outraged northerners started forming posses to defend their neighbors, those marshals called in federal troops.

In other words, the “confederate” social movement is not always anti-central-government!  It is only opposed to federal government when it does not control those levers of power.  Witness the tepidness of anti-government proclamations during the tenure of GW Bush.  Indeed, it is a wrathful unwillingness to let the electoral winners have their legitimate turn that was behind the hysterical reaction to Lincoln’s election… and (one might argue) Obama’s.

By the way, those rampaging bands of southern cavalry were self-defeating.  They radicalized northerners, causing them to arm themselves, revive their dormant militias and (eventually) vote for the abolitionist Lincoln. An effect that – were eyes open – one can clearly see happening across Blue America, today. (This is why Gun Control is such a pathetic hot button on the right.  No one is seeking more than tweaks.  Indeed, under Bush, many liberals started arming themselves.)

BurnsCivilWarUp to this point, the Confederacy Society (CS) had lost phase one (allowing the establishment of a true federal republic), played for a draw in the Calhoun-Jackson era, and won phase three — in that its agendas controlled the national government and processes.

But finally, Blue America got fed up. And what ensued was phase four — the one we normally think of as “The Civil War.” Unable to stomach their opponents even having a brief tenancy in just one branch of the government, CS did not bother trying to send even one delegation to negotiate with president-elect Lincoln, thus eliminating all right to refer to the explanations in Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence… that secession can be justified, but only when all other negotiations and redress have been exhausted.

We all know Phase Four very well. (If not, watch Ken Burns portray it magnificently, in his PBS series.) Hence, tra la I will bypass it!

I’ll speed through the others:

fall-dixiePhase 5- The 1870s early end of Reconstruction... when the South bargained to let Rutherford Hayes and the Republicans into the White House, in exchange for what they really wanted. The “confederacy” won this phase, big time, when they dickered their way into an end of Civil Rights protections and a surge of Jim Crow laws that ripped from freed slaves the right to vote. The real losers, though? Not just minorities, but in every pragmatic sense the entire South, which thereupon slumped into a backwater of economic retardation and romantic, old-timey hatred of progress.

(You’d deny this?  Then explain how China in just 30 years went from poverty to economic superpower… when the US South had 150 years and still blames its backwardness on Sherman.)

civil-war-word-cloudPhase 6 . The 1880s… this phase is not entirely associated with “confederate society” though it was part and parcel of the Democratic Party of those days. It featured William Jennings Bryan’s white-christian populism, Free Silver and a rebuke to the steamroller effects of consolidated northern corporations. And for the first time, the states of the Great Plains began edging toward alliance with the Olde South. Northern oligarchs won phase six… unfortunately, in this case. (The one time the confederacy wing of our ongoing civil war had some moral justification on their side.)

(What spun off from this phase was the Progressive Movement, which manifested all over America and was taken up by Theodore Roosevelt, whose family specialized in saving the wealthy in America from the inevitable price of limitless greed. If only today’s oligarchs understood that their greatest need, right now, is another Roosevelt! Without gentle, moderate reforms, our current momentum can only lead to tumbrels and guillotines.)

PHASES-CIVIL-WARPhase 7 – The 1940s through 1970s … the civil rights movement, started with Harry Truman’s bold desegregation of the military, then Dwight Eisenhower’s firm support of school desegregation. The essential and too-long delayed resumption of Reconstruction… which also included Lyndon Johnson’s effort to re-industrialize and re-invigorate the South. This phase was clearly won by Blue America (though the South benefited prodigiously, economically), but at a cost — which was….

Phase 8 – …the Nixonian, southern-strategy “flip” leads ultimately to today’s full scale New Confederacy effort to finally destroy the United States of America. Not by arms, but by ending the effectiveness of politics as a pragmatic, open-minded process by which undogmatic citizens negotiate a mix of experiments and find out what works. Replacing all of that with dogma more intense than communism ever was.

pragmatismPragmatism and science and re-evaluation are the enemies. A conviction of moral superiority that cannot be shaken by facts.

Teen sex ages and rates, teen pregnancies, STDs, domestic violence, divorce rates, bankruptcy and debt default rates, economic productivity, net tax parasitism…even obesity rates… tell us clearly than outcome metrics do not support any claims that salt-of-the-earth types are better at life and raising kids than decadent university-city-folk. So? The response is to utterly ignore statistics. Truthiness is all that matters.

GettysburgI could go on, but the point is clear: this rebellion against the American Experiment is both ancient and culturally deeply rooted.  We are in its eighth phase (at least).

Mark Twain commented that this relentlessly recurring rage is far more psychological than anything else, a deep romanticism and obsession with nostalgia that he blamed on Sir Walter Scott!  In Ted Turner’s wonderful film GETTYSBURG, one character opines that blue and gray America sang the same songs… but dreamed different dreams.

Today’s neo-confederacy is smart enough not to secede.  It is working from within to slash the things that it always hated. Especially science, which is the enemy of nostalgia.

And yes, that campaign now includes seeking to ensure that “government of/by/for the people” SHALL perish from the Earth.

LincolnGettysburgAddress

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The True Origins of the American Revolution

A few weeks ago, I was a keynote speaker at Freedom Fest, the big libertarian convention in Las Vegas. Do I seem an odd choice, given my past thorough and merciless dissections of Ayn Rand?

COMPETITION-1In fact I’ve done this before, showing up to suggest that a movement claiming to be all about freedom might want to veer away from its recent, mutant obsession — empowering and enabling the kind of owner-oligarchy that oppressed humanity all across the last 6000 years. Instead, I propose going back to a more healthy and well-grounded libertarian rootstock — encouraging the vast creative power of open-flat-fair competition

…a word that libertarians scarcely mention, anymore. Because it conflicts fundamentally with their current focus — promoting inherited oligarchy.

With that impudent, contrary attitude, would you believe I had a fine and interesting time? My son and I dined at the VIP table with publishing magnate and former presidential candidate Steve Forbes. Along with humorist P. J. O’Rourke and John Mackey (Whole Foods and an avid SciFi reader.) Also at the table? Grover (I kid you not) Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform and a guiding force beyond the American right’s current-central obsession — that government of/by/for the people must perish from the Earth.

Would you be surprised that I was the most-liberal voice at this gathering? And yes, I managed to poke without being rude. (I’ve been known to poke in other directions, too!) See an addendum, below, offering more about the Freedom Fest event.

Foremost, though, I want to focus one piece of polemic that Grover Norquist thrust upon us over dinner, concerning the origins of the American Revolution.

 

== It’s not easy being green ==

TEA-TAXESGrover N. asserted that, in 1770, the British people put up with being taxed above a 20% rate, while folks in the colonies were taxed at roughly 2% of their average income. Yet, those colonists reacted fiercely and rebelled when/because they saw that burden doubled to 4%!

What an interesting assertion! It turns out that the statistics are generally true, that is, when it came to taxes passed by Parliament – though Mr. Norquist leaves out levies enacted separately by colonial legislatures. But my real quibble concerns which word is correct in the preceding paragraph: “when” or “because.” 

Norquist says “because.” Implying that American colonists – unique by their irascibly independent nature – were eager to shuck all old loyalties, to risk hanging, to endure devastating war and deprivation, because 4% was beyond all forbearance. And therefore, today’s American populace, enduring many times that rate of taxation must be inferior, devolved creatures, unworthy of such a founding generation.

May I be frank? That assertion is utter, howling malarkey. In fact, the Founder generation in the 1770s was willing to pay many times as much tax, if only they were treated as full citizens, with representation. The Tea and Stamp and other taxes were convenient ignition sparks, But the fuel for a real fire was far more significant.

 

==  True Grievances Behind the American Revolution ==

The American Revolution serves as a Rorschach test that reflects the obsessions of each succeeding generation. In the 1920s, Marxist notions of class struggle dominated and thus even anti-communist historians viewed the rebellion as a phase shift from monarchal domination to empowerment of the bourgeoisie. In the forties, this seemed hackneyed and literalist scholars started instead taking the Founders at their word — that the Revolution was an idealistic exercise in limiting the scope of government.

During the cynical 1960s, fashions changed again, to viewing the rebellion as a manipulative putsch that allowed local gentry — the caste of Washington and Jefferson — to displace others at the top of the heap. A lateral coup, with just enough populism to keep the middle class placid.

Peoples-historyWhat these generations of scholars all seemed to agree upon was that the colonists weren’t rebelling over the raw magnitude of taxes. Indeed, many expressed puzzlement that there were any grievances worth fighting and dying over! Certainly it all seemed rather far-fetched, given how comfortable life had been for most American colonists, especially compared to the mountain of crimes committed against the people of France, by the Bourbon ancien regime.

In fact, despite the hairsplitting obsessions of academic scholars — and the puerile tendency of textbooks and politicians to mention only tea and stamp taxes — it is pretty clear in historical records that the colonists revolted for a host of genuine grievances:

  1. Monopolies such as the East India Company had been granted exclusive trading rights, cutting out American merchants, funneling commerce through ports and markets controlled by the top one hundred British families — the one-percent or one-percent of one-percent. Colonial goods had to be carried in cartel ships, and sold through cartel agents. Thus Americans were viewed as cash machines for the Crown and nobles. Those who had the gold, made the rules, and those rules ensured they would get more, an ancient and deeply human pattern that Adam Smith denounced with the publication of Wealth of Nations, in 1776.
  1. The insanely destructive 1764 Currency Act, which forbade the colonies from issuing paper currency and required use only of coinage released by the cartel, in London. This devastated the velocity of money, making it difficult for colonists to pay their debts and taxes, even if they had plenty of non-liquid wealth, and forcing thousands into bankruptcy. Contemporary accounts tell that until the 1764 law, you could scarcely find a jobless or poor person in British America.  After the colonies were banned from printing money, the economy tanked. Suddenly there were homeless and beggars everywhere.

That’s a helluva lot less abstract than a tax on tea. Alas though, it does not suit the tea-party narrative. Note also that there has always been an obsession, in society’s aristocratic class, with lowering the velocity of money, a policy that always devastates the middle class.

3) Almost half of the land in the colonies was owned by absentee lords. The main reason Franklin was sent to London (around 1760) was to attempt persuading the Penn family (also later the Baltimores and other members of the aristocratic cartel) to allow themselves to be taxed, even at very low rates, so that the colonies could function. Their refusal to contribute (based on ancient feudal privilege) was identical to the rigid stance of the aristocratic First Estate in 1789 France. The “legal” basis was exactly the same.

(Note: those French nobles lost their heads because they clutched obstinate, unreasoning greed. In contrast, the Penns/Baltimores and other lordly families with vast American holdings merely lost their lands, which the Founders seized and redistributed, like the “socialists” they were! 

(Hence let me put a side wager on the table: care to bet how the Kochs/Murdochs will behave, as they push exactly the same privilege-line to its inevitable conclusion? Never tax the “job creators!” Which of those two outcomes is likely to befall them, when that propaganda line finally loses its distraction effectiveness and America’s lower middle class remembers their grandparents’ tales of earlier phases of class warfare? Will the final outcome be the French result? Or the American? Either way, these fellows are nowhere near as smart as they think they are.)

4) Coming in at number four, at last: taxation without representation! Yes, it is the classic. Only let’s dive deeper into this one, because true history is nothing like what we’re told by the Norquist/Teaparty narrative.

TAXES-REVOLTThe British Parliament was at that time hugely “gerrymandered,” to apply a modern term. There were many Rotten Burroughs where a lord and a few dozen tenants got to elect their own MP, while the masses in Birmingham and London were steeply under-represented… and Americans had no representation at all. Reforming this mess (it eventually happened) would have prevented the explosion, keeping the colonies loyal. But it would also hurt the short-term self-interest of those lords and MPs. So, the blatantly unjust system was maintained and American grievance ignored.

Did you catch the parallel? Today’s Republican Party relies utterly upon two kinds of gerrymandering. In red state legislatures and the U.S. House of Representatives, it is the blatant twisting of electoral districts. (Some blue states do it, too, but more of them are abandoning the foul practice; not one red state has.)

In the U.S. Senate, gerrymandered-unfair representation is even more deeply embedded. It derives from the cynical drawing of state boundaries, so that — for example — Dakota Territory was split in two and given four Senators, despite having minuscule population, then and now. That problem is much harder to fix and must await a truly angry era – one that is evidently coming.

unfair-representationAn aside: just to make this perfectly clear — anyone defending this wretched cheat (gerrymandering) is – himself – thus proved to be a cheater and liar and an enemy of the Republic. There is no matter of ambiguity or opinion over that. No rationalization to save you from what you see in the mirror. Reform will happen (as it eventually came to the British Parliament, after the damage was done). Those who delay reform of this dastardly practice are little better than thieves, and stupid ones, blind to how much worse they are only making the inevitable backlash.

The crux: you claim the American people despise their government and taxation? How about letting our elections be fair and proportionately representative, then let the people decide.

5) British laws against settlement beyond the Appalachians. At surface, this rule was to protect native tribes. Indeed, resentment against this restriction, particularly by Scots-Irish immigrants, arose because they wanted to go over the mountains to grab farmland from peoples already living there. But the Crown and Lords weren’t doing this to be nice to the tribes. They had a real problem on their hands.

The frontier provided an easy haven to which tenant farmers, indentured servants and slaves might flee, and/or remake themselves. That escape option – unavailable in old Europe – made it very hard to maintain a bottom-caste peasantry. For all its faults, the frontier forged the deeply libertarian American soul.

(Again… I am talking about older libertarianism… not the weirdly-mutated thing the movement has become.)

Note that factor #5  came to roost in two of the most important battles of the Revolution, King’s Mountain and Cowpens, when those Scots-Irish frontiersmen bloodied Cornwallis and helped take back the South from Charleston tories. (Note to nation. Please, next time, let Charleston secede!)

EGALITARIANISM6) Egalitarianism. Some historians anchor the American Revolution upon a single day, when Ben Franklin was summoned before the King’s Privy Council for a public berating and humiliation… the day that the smartest man in a century was converted from an impudent-but-loyal subject into a dedicated conspirator for independence. The colonies were already home to a new spirit and ethos – part cantankerous, part ebullient and hopeful, and part-scientific, with all those portions combining to demand one core question:

Why should I have to bow down, or be bullied, by another mere human… just because of who his father was?”

The irony is rich. Those today citing the Founders most often are folks who are most vigorously helping propel us back into a world of inherited status, dominated by clans and cartels of aristocratic families.

radical-revolutionIn his book, The Radicalism of the American Revolution, historian Gordon Wood emphasizes this aspect, pondering that the new idealism crystallized by Thomas Paine might have built into a breakthrough not seen since Periclean Athens — the invention of the dedicated modern citizen. Wood parses this idealism into many permutations, dissecting variations of republicanism, none of which matter to us here. Suffice it to say that a general quality of fervent belief in a New Man clearly did take hold, taking over from earlier grievances.

61p0XW6DvWLIn Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality, Princeton professor Danielle Allen ponders every sentence of the seminal American document and sometimes every word, examining five facets that revolve around the notion of political equality, including, as Gordon Wood describes: “the importance of reciprocity or mutual responsiveness to achieving the conditions of freedom.”  In other words, providing the back and forth of accountability that no individual can apply to him or herself.  The reciprocal accountability that was strenuously avoided and quashed by every ruling caste, in almost every other society that ever existed, and that is perpetually under attack, in our own.

Make no mistake. The Charleston tories became Confederate plantation lords, who aimed to re-establish inherited-landed-ownership nobility, the classic human pattern that ruined markets and competition and freedom and social mobility in every society other than ours.

And that torch is now carried by hirelings of a new oligarchy, diverting libertarian passion away from flat-open-fair competition over to worship of absolute property rights, no matter how inherited or how much this re-creates the Olde Order that sparked our Revolution.

History rhymes.

 

== What about hatred of taxation? ==

Were there other reasons for rebellion? Sure. For example, as in all civil wars, many felt their blood boil over local and personal grievances, spurring groups of neighbors to call themselves “tory” or “patriot” while riding forth to settle old scores. But for our purposes here, it suffices to demolish the pat and absurd narrative of today’s right, that the rebellion was all about… or indeed had much of anything to do with… the basic amount of taxation.

Oh, sure, there were earlier versions of Grover Norquist, in those days. But few.

eb0743f468c286572fe8cb3d2b92ae5eFor example, take the Whiskey Rebellion, which is often cited by radical libertarians as a failed but glorious attempt to finish the revolution.

How inconvenient to point out that the Whiskey Rebellion was not against the Whiskey Tax, per se! Rather it expressed resentment that state authorities refused to let farmers pay the tax… in whiskey! Which was their only cash commodity! They had no silver, but were willing to pay… in ‘shine!  (Which was freely traded about as currency, in those days.) Instead, domineering officials demanded coin, and thus bankrupted a number of farmers, driving others into a fury.

(Note the exact parallel with Parliament’s foolish 1764 Currency Act. Indeed, the very same principle was at stake in the much later Free Silver platform of William Jennings Bryan. And it is seen in those who urge us to “return to the gold standard.” Indeed, this same effect is manifest in Congress’s obstinate refusal to fund desperately needed infrastructure repairs that would have employed 100,000 Americans, circulating high velocity money… a far better form of stimulation than the Fed’s bond buying program, whose inefficient “stimulus” poured half a trillion dollars into low-velocity uses, like inflating asset bubbles.  Again and again, the pattern repeats: aristocrats use their political influence to bring down the velocity of money and to beggar the middle class.  An old battle, indeed.)

And yes, that was a case where state bureaucrats were bossy, insensitive, impractical and ruinous of the people they were supposed to serve. I told you, I have a libertarian streak! Government is a perpetual threat to freedom – even if today’s right exaggerates the current danger, a hundred-fold. Sincere civil servants can metastasize into overbearing bureaucrats! It isn’t only oligarchy that threatens us. All accumulations of power must have accountability!

The upshot of the Whiskey Rebellion was that Washington and his troops established the power of the state to tax. But there also ensued hurried changes in law, easing the farmers’ debt crisis, based on a principle we should always remember. That the state’s power should never become destructive of its citizens.

 

== The Underlying Agenda of the Narrative ==

I will hand it to Grover Norquist. He is honest about his goal, which is to starve government, then strangle it and then bury it. (Did I leave out the step of incineration?) He makes no pretense otherwise. Reiterating: Norquist and his co-religionists precisely want “government of the people, by the people, for the people” to perish from the Earth.

Now, as a science fiction author… and as a child of Adam Smith and George Orwell and Robert Heinlein… I openly avow that overweening and over-reaching government can be one of the Great Failure Modes! We need an active libertarian side of the national and world conversation, focusing skepticism on the potential for bureaucrats and armies and police to betray and oppress the citizens who hire them! Just as we need others to remind us that the greatest enemies of markets and enterprise and freedom — across 6000 years — have been cartels of owner-oligarch-lords.

cheatersCheaters can arise from any direction, aiming to end our Great Experiment and return us to the old pyramid of privilege, and it does not matter much if the masters call themselves “civil servants,” “job-creators,” feudal lords or communist commissars. It is the same cheating impulse. And it may erupt straight out of genetic nature. Unless we constantly resist all would-be lords, whatever direction they come from and whatever rationalizations they offer.

Which is why we need moderate libertarians who will constantly demand proof that any statist “solution” will both solve the problem at-hand and not take us toward Big Brother. Just as we need moderate liberals to remind us that the best capitalism is one that is flat-open-transparent and broken into units that are small enough to fail. A capitalism that benefits (as Hayek preached) from maximizing the number of skilled, eager and ready competitors! And hence, a society in which all children grow up healthy, educated, well-fed, hitting age 25 prepared to… compete! From basically equal starting gates. Not based on who their fathers were.

competition(Competition. There’s that word again. If only it were, once again, a libertarian touch stone.)

A plague on both the simplistic, lord-loving entire-right and a patronizingly pushy-PC far-left, both of which despise even the notion of flat-open-fair competition. Indignant dogmas are a plague, crippling our genius at negotiating an agile and sophisticated and wise civilization.

 

== We have a revolution to uphold… ==

As for Grover and his agenda. Sorry. Adam Smith and the Founders knew what our parents and grandparents in the Greatest Generation knew… that a government that is warily watched can serve us. And it can serve as a counterweight to other, older and just-as-dangerous centers of power. We remain free by siccing elites against each other! And that cannot happen if government completely vanishes. Or is neutered.

A lean and leashed government is the only tool citizens have to counterbalance the inevitable cheating by aristocracy that ruined every other human renaissance. Adam Smith And the Founders knew this. Every generation of Americans rebelled against cheaters… generally through calm reforms, but twice violently… though never falling into the intemperate rage of the Russian, French or Chinese revolutions.

Book-Review-The-Greatest-Generation-by-Tom-BrokawAgain I keep coming bcd to the ‘greatest generation‘ — that fought depression and Hitler and made the flattest but most successful capitalist society… one that got rich so fast that it could then afford to start toppling ancient injustices, like racism, sexism and all that. Do you admire that generation?  Well, that ‘greatest generation’ revered and adored one man, above all others. He was the same man that the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation the Koch brothers and Fox News all now want us to call Satan Incarnate.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Who saved America as a flat-fair-open market economy, from monsters of both left and right. And yes, many of FDR’s solutions were not appropriate for our era. I prefer looser approaches, that leverage on the vastly higher levels of education that our tech-savvy populace has achieved — in part because of what the Greatest Generation accomplished.

But I will proudly stand up for the founding father of both liberalism and libertarianism. Adam Smith, author of both Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments, was almost as smart as Ben Franklin! And both of them proposed that the future will be won by moderate, undogmatic people, who are passionately reasonable!  I relentlessly preach for agile, citizen-level power, a burgeoning Age of Amateurs, for Smart Mob ad hoc networks, and for local action.

I will continue preaching to liberals that they should rediscover their Smithian libertarian side.

Meanwhile, thReclaimAdamSmithough, libertarians, you must stop the ranting and lapel-grabbing dogmas that were spoon-fed to you by “think tanks” operated by a fast-rising caste of oligarchic-feudal cheaters! The great enemy of freedom across 6000 years, returning with a vengeance. Escape your hypnotic, Platonic catechisms and realize… that the true, healthy heart of your movement is far more liberal than you ever realized.

We are still the rebels.  Here is to ongoing, militantly-moderate Revolution, forever

=

See my collected articles: Libertarianism: Finding a New Path. 

 LIbertarianism** NOTES ON THE FESTIVAL: My hosts, Mark & Jo Ann Skousen, were lovely, their Freedom Film Festival was intriguing/challenging, and the evening’s talent show, a libertarian re-telling of Camelot, was a hoot. Oh, and the Janis Joplin impersonator was terrific! Hey, it’s Vegas; you can hire anyone or anything. 

Clearly, the top organizers of FreedomFest wanted to toss a grenade at the Randians and Rothbardians, and I was that grenade! In fact, I found it all very interesting… and proof that I don’t need a political chiropractor! I can turn my head and look all ways, seeking value, and listening well enough to understand what I refute. (Can you?)

 

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A Looming Gilded Age: Capital, Affluence & Influence

piketty-capital-coverIf books could kill, the attempted oligarchic takeover of America would be dead this week and Wall Street would be flushed clean of villains, leaving a healthy and vibrantly flat-competitive capitalism, in its wake. The best seller lists swarm with fact-filled appraisals that should sway any portion of the population (that reads) into action.

For example, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century became a Number 1 bestseller at Amazon, around the same time that Senator Elizabeth Warren released her book A Fighting Chance — about how Washington works, and fails to work.

Another hot book is Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, the latest from Michael Lewis on the most recent form of mass-scamming on Wall Street. (I’ve written about this important book, elsewhere, pointing out how even Lewis missed the worst implication of High Speed Trading, that it might – in a weird way – lead to no less than human extinction!)

Affluence-InfluenceAnd now — Martin Gilens’s Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America was an award-winner in political science last year. His new tome “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” conclusively proves that elites get their way in public policy, far more readily than the People do.

Duh, you say? So you shrug that it is obvious? Alas, your complacency is death to democracy.

Picketty’s may be the most important of these books, zeroing in – supported by clear statistics – on how America’s seventy year, post WWII vacation from class war has clearly come to an end. That long, prosperous truce — the most productive and liberating and egalitarian time in all of human history — can only be re-established if we first have to guts to recognize why it finally failed.

It is still possible to reform with moderate measures, like those one hundred years ago that Teddy Roosevelt used to restore and safeguard the middle class against a looming Gilded Age… or those that half a century later led to the flattest and most socially mobile continental society in history, with a booming middle class and the greatest surge in entrepreneurial growth and startup capitalism, in the wake of that other Roosevelt*…

ClassWarLessonsHistory…or else if such moderate, re-tuning reforms don’t come, as Elizabeth Warren warns in her book, we may tumble back into the normal human mode of 6000 years, a pyramid-shaped society of aristocratic rule in which the only options remaining to oppressed masses will resemble those used by the mobs, in 1789 France.

Truly smart rich folk would see that trend, and thereupon join leaders like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, fighting to maintain a middle class civilization… where they just happen to be rich, but not lords. The tech moguls and creative types are behind Buffett and Gates.

(I portray some discussions about this taking place among trillionaires, in the 2040s, in EXISTENCE.)

Alas, those who got rich via resource extraction from public lands, or by inheriting it, or through predatory Wall Street manipulations, seem to want to be like Louis XVI lords. Their behaviors and public statements stunningly resemble those of the Bourbon First Estate. Their reactions to Picketty et al, via messengers like Paul Ryan, are not about negotiation or finding moderate reforms. They clamor, in full frontal attack mode, a no-compromise stance of absolute determination.

As my friend the epic producer of Babylon 5, J. Michael Straczynski paraphrased recently (with his flair for drama), in The New Aristocracy, they appear to be saying: “We will be your lords. Feudalism is back. Live with it.”

== What about those reforms? ==

Lessig-PACProfessor Lawrence Lessig — one of the archetype Rooseveltean reformers — has introduced a SuperPAC, Mayday for the Republic, with the stated purpose of destroying SuperPACs. His plan is to raise enough money from small donations to “buy Congress” and destroy the oligarchical donor system from the inside. (The goal is 5 Mayday-aligned House reps in 2014, then raise enough money to “buy Congress” in 2016.)

Terrific. Give your support.

But as you know, I go to an even more basic level — transparency. And so LittleSis.org is a free database of who-knows-who at the heights of business and government… aiming to be the antidote to… Big Brother. get it? Pretty much the epitome of citizen-crowdsources sousveillance. This must grow.

Better yet, fight complacency and do what really counts, by reminding all of those who are tempted to sit out the coming mid-term elections:

“It’s the Supreme Court, stupid.”

== YOUR bill for foreign tax dodges ==

LOOMING-GILDED-AGEU.S. taxpayers would need to pay an average of $1,259 more a year to make up the federal and state taxes lost to corporations and individuals sheltering money in overseas tax havens, according to a report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “…ordinary taxpayers end up picking up the tab, either in the form of higher taxes, cuts to public spending priorities, or increases to the federal debt,” USPIRG said.”

In total, the U.S. loses $150 billion in federal revenue and another $34 billion in state revenue annually because of money parked in tax havens. That’s almost 5 percent of total federal revenue.

Um… can we let that sink in? that’s $1,200 out of YOUR pocket, every year. Is this “transparency thing” still an abstraction to you?

See where I explore this (Money Flows that Might Prevent New World Wars)…though I do it more entertainingly in EARTH!

And tangentially in a recent posting: Future Perspectives: Does the ACLU at last understand surveillance?

== Am I a “liberal? ==

ReclaimAdamSmithSome out there interpret my opposition to an ongoing oligarchic putsch and the new American Gilded Age as evidence that “David Brin is a Liberal” — despite the fact that no one alive mentions (or touts) Adam Smith more than I do.

Yes I do support liberals (though not leftists) nowadays, for the most part. But that is entirely because of the New Confederacy’s blatant abandonment of the old, conservatism of intellects like Buckley and Goldwater and the GOP’s open declaration of its intent to ensure that governance fails.  Their agenda of a return to feudalism and the War on Science. In fact, I yearn for the return of a “smithian” libertarianism that might serve as a foil and intelligent balance to reformist liberalism.

If that sounds a bit obscure, then let’s just keep returning to that oligarchic putsch — the skyrocketing wealth and income disparities that seem to be a natural, toxic byproduct when cheating (an inborn human tendency) starts to spoil and ruin the brilliance of smithian market competition.

If we are returning to that age old failure mode, it makes no sense to feel rage — this is the most natural thing that humans do, when they get power!

We can fix it. Without the insane oversimplifying radicalisms of “all capitalism is evil!” or “all government is evil!” or similar, loony symptoms of “fused political spine disease”… the inability to turn one’s head and see flaws in all directions.

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Money flows that might prevent new World Wars

Syria-Russia-Iran-IraqVeteran U.S. diplomat and Middle East expert Dennis Ross made some interesting points about President Obama’s trip to Saudi Arabia in an L.A. Times editorial: “Next Test for Obama: Soothing the Saudis.” He referred to the Saudis biggest concern, the rise of militant Shiite Islam and an axis of Iran-Iraq-Syria that now includes an aggressively revanchist Russia. A problem that some have referred to as “World War Four.”

Alas, Mr Ross ignores the elephant in the room. That the Saudis are not the victims in any of this. Their relentless push to establish fiercely conservative Wahhabi madrassas all over the Sunni Muslim world helped to create Al Qaeda and most of the 9/11 attackers. Their own textbooks declare the west to be an evil place, to be tolerated only while necessary. Above all, they have striven, since 1948, to stymie peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. By pushing to keep Palestine as an open wound, they ensured only that the Levant region would remain embroiled and steeped in pain, never achieving what the Saudis’ Hashemite rivals once dreamed-of — an alliance between Arabs and Jews that could strengthen all concerned.

One wonders, as the generations pass along, if the admittedly brilliant grandsons of Abdulaziz ibn Saud might be flexible enough to envision how that long-deferred option is worth trying, at long last. That Israel and the Levant and Egypt and Arabia have potential far beyond mere oil, especially if all parties were to help foster synergies, instead of trumped-up enmities.

Saudi-aid-PalestinianThe Saudis, especially, have the wherewithal to offer aid and investment – a deal that would be impossible for the Palestinian side to refuse. And such an offer would corner Israel with an economic carrot that transcends any and all sticks.

Above all, such a jiu jitsu move by the Saudis would render the Russo-Shiite axis futile… almost cute in its impotence, next to the scientific/technological/economic superpower that would blossom in the Sunni-Israeli zone. All of these benefits await, but are only perceived by those of flexible mind.

Alas, Mr. Ross shows us no hint of any of that.

== A “Helvetian” scenario? ==

SMUGGLE-DEVELOP-COUNTRIESIt’s hard to build your country when the money keeps slipping away. Foreign capital flight has been a problem for developing countries this year, but a bigger problem might be the funds smuggled out by tax evaders, corrupt officials and criminals — $946.7 billion in 2011. Nearly a trillion dollars, according to the latest estimates released today by a team of economists at the non-profit Global Financial Integrity, an increase of more than 10% over the previous year. For comparison, total foreign aid to developing nations in 2011 was just $141 billion.

“The nations most hamstrung by illicit flows are in Africa, where illicit flows are the equivalent of 5.7% of GDP; the average developing country lost 3.7% of GDP in 2011. That’s a huge amount of money to lose that could otherwise be invested in private or public enterprise that might improve the lives of people living there. Instead, it winds up in tax havens—including the United States and the United Kingdom. “This isn’t really just a developing world problem it’s facilitated by developed country banks and tax havens,” Brian Leblanc, one of the economists behind the study, told Quartz.”

“Indeed, with six times more money leaving developing countries illicitly than entering them as aid, advocates for these nations might do well to back policies to block these flows. Promoting tax-haven crackdowns and convincing powerful multinationals to submit their transactions to more scrutiny is hard to do, but it could pay dividends for development down the line.”

MIDDLE-CLASS-RISEIn EARTH I portray a dozen developing nations having suddenly realized that several trillion dollars — ripped off from poor countries by former kleptocratic lords — sits in Swiss and other bank haven accounts.  When all else failed, they declared war on Switzerland — in the 2020s — in order to use the rights of belligerent powers to seize assets all over the world and to coerce return of enough money to save millions of children.

Things needn’t come to that! In fact, a deal might be worked out in which developing nations agree to keep the restored funds deposited in Swiss banks! Only with interest and collateral value now going to the nation’s children, not former klepto-presidents. Such a deal would, in a shot, restore hope and trust… and guarantee the bankers against the kind of comeuppance they think (right now) can never come.

History disagrees. It can come. Cut the deal.

Treasure-Islands-Shaxson-bookPOSTSCRIPT: In this recent report, analyst Gabriel Zuchman shows evidence that around 8% of the global financial wealth of households is held in tax havens, three-quarters of which goes unrecorded. Meaning that this is about much, much more than just the developing world. “On the basis of plausible assumptions, accounting for unrecorded assets turns the eurozone, officially the world’s second largest net debtor, into a net creditor. It also reduces the U.S. net debt significantly.”

It’s flagrant! “… (worldwide) more investment income is paid than received each year…” and “…many European securities, in particular, have no identifiable owner…”

Clearly this relates to my longstanding proposal — for worldwide transparency of ownership. It is completely non-socialistic and would probably result in taxes upon honest families going down. All it would do is ensure that those yelling the loudest in defense of open capitalism actually live by it.

== Grabbing, hand over fist ==

Related news that just hints at the scale of the oligarchic putsch…

Rupert Murdoch’s media group received a $882 million tax rebate from Australia last year in a revelation that is likely to reignite the debate over how much tax is paid by international corporations. Again, this generation is the savviest and most knowledgeable in history.  Do you guys honestly think that — when it becomes radicalized — there won’t be repercussions?

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Is World War IV taking shape?

World economics seer Louis-Vincent Gave, of the Gavekal Partnership, has explained the pivotal meaning of the Crimea Incident in a larger context which he calls a looming “World War IV” — the conflict between the Shia and Sunni branches of Islam, in which Sunnis control larger reserves of oil, but Shia populations are restive in the very places where that oil is pumped.

(Clearly, in its decades of tension and expense and geopolitical importance, the Cold War was a tepid-simmering “World War III.”)

WORLD-WAR-IVIf a rising axis of Russia, Iran, Syria and Iraq takes hold – (the latter three Shia-ruled, currently) – then fear will tighten across the Sunni belt. Tensions will drive arms sales and raise oil prices, which is the only condition under which Russia prospers.  U.S. efforts to sap the strength of that alliance make a major reason for the Obama Administration’s peace efforts with Iran… which Vladimir Putin will try to wreck.

It is also a good reason to ponder whether Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan — himself politically embattled — might do the one thing that would settle matters in Syria… sending in the Turkish Army.  Even with the excuse of humanitarian reasons, it would be risky. (The threat to Russia’s Tartus naval base would raise tensions to stratospheric levels, though.)

Russia-Iran-Iraq-SyriaThe real locus of what-if pondering must zero in on Saudi Arabia.  Are they sufficiently unnerved by the Russia-Iran-Iraq-Syria axis… and simmering problems with their own restive Shia populations… to decide upon a change in policy?  To back off from their blatant efforts to manipulate and poison American political processes, for example, and to instead meddle in more constructive ways?

One ponders all this while reading the latest missive by veteran US diplomat and Middle East expert Dennis Ross, who makes some interesting points about President Obama’s coming trip to Saudi Arabia in “Soothing the Saudis.” (LATimes Tuesday.) He refers to the Saudis biggest concern, the rise of militant Shiite Islam and an axis of Iran-Iraq-Syria that now includes an aggressively revanchist Russia. A problem that Louis-Vincent Gave referred to as “World War Four.”

Alas, Mr Ross ignores the elephant in the room. That the Saudis are not the victims in any of this. Their relentless push to establish extremist Wahhabi madrassas all over the Sunni Muslim world helped to create Al Qaeda and most of the 9/11 attackers. Their own textbooks declare the west to be an evil place, to be tolerated only while necessary. Above all, they have ceaselessly striven, since 1948, to stymie any peace process between Israel and its Arab neighbors. By pushing to keep Palestine as an open wound, they ensured only that the Levant region would remain embroiled and steeped in pain, never achieving what the Saudis’ Hashemite rivals once dreamed-of — an alliance between Arabs and Jews that could strengthen all concerned.

Sixty-plus years ago, they decided to keep the Arab-Israeli simmering at near-boil, instead of helping to end it.   Now, as negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis reach a critical juncture, the Saudis might sweeten the deal with financial incentives that would finally salve this awful wound. Israel and the Levant and Egypt and Arabia have potential far beyond mere oil, if they were to help foster synergies, instead of trumped-up enmities.

That might seem worthwhile, creating a core of strength all through the region that would solve the Saudis’ security problem without a shot.  Oh, but if only if those grandsons of a genius are half as smart as their ancestor.

== The Pentagon is concerned… ==

… about many things.  I spent an entire day there, a couple of weeks ago, consulting with strategic planners, who have a whole lot on their minds — like the resurgence of a militarily advanced and aggressive Russia, after the Bush-era leaders pretty much disbanded our peer-capable military in favor of insurgency-fighting SWAT teams. Still, that’s not what has the senior officers and officials breaking into a sweat.

The nation’s military leadership is in unified agreement that climate change is real, and also that it poses a clear and present danger to the US and especially its armed forces. “The Pentagon’s thinking is revealed plainly and publicly in its own 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review Quadrennial-defense-2014, which features no fewer than eight direct, specific, and unambiguous evaluations of climate change as it relates to geopolitics and military strategy.”

See also: The Pentagon’s Guide to Overcoming Climate Change Denial.

Ah, but the U.S. Officer Corps is no longer respected in the heartland.  As of November 2013, 23 percent of Americans said they “didn’t believe in” climate change.  Which will be about as effective as not believing in a bullet that’s been fired at your nose.  No wonder a cult-like tenor has set in, waging war not just on science but every other clade or profession of knowledge and skill in American life.

To be clear, the unequivocal position by the U.S. military has had some effects upon the Fox News party line.  Facts like Russian bases erupting along the Arctic Ocean and the opening of the Northwest Passage to summer shipping are pretty undeniable… so Hannity and company have veered to changing the message: “All right, the climate is changing… but… but… climate has ALWAYS been changing and that don’t mean we gotta do anything!”

In fact, that’s a lie, top to bottom.  The last 6000 years has been among the most stable, climate-wise, in the last 20 million… and even so, small perturbations like the 1500s Little Ice Age wrought horrible havoc on nations and peoples. Any astrophysicist will show you how closely Earth skates along the inner edge of our sun’s “goldilocks” or habitable zone… and hence why we can afford only traces of greenhouse gas.

But the greatest sign of stunning low-IQ is how Fox-viewers never notice the change in catechism!  From “there’s no warming!” over to “all right it’s hotter: but prove that it’s human generated!”  It’s like the millions of Glenn Beck followers who never once asked “WHICH eight foreign governments did you say George Soros toppled?”

Unscientific-AmericaThese and dozens of other, never asked questions show that this is the greatest know-nothing campaign against a sapient, scientific civilization in 150 years. Possibly since the Inquisition.  And you have to ask: what do Rupert and his partners hope to gain?

Finally, connecting this story to the preceding one, um… you are aware who Rupert’s top co-owner of Fox News happens to be?  Maybe the rising Russia-Iran-Iraq-Syria axis will convince that House to stop financially supporting Murdoch’s campaign against American sanity.

== Aw heck… while we’re on the subject… ==

“Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal owns a 7 percent stake in News Corp — the parent company of Fox News — making him the largest shareholder outside the family of News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch. Alwaleed has grown close with the Murdoch enterprise…. Last weekend, at the right-wing Constitutional Coalition’s annual conference in St. Louis, Joseph Farah, publisher of the far right WorldNetDaily, blasted Fox News for its relationship with Alwaleed.”

Go ahead and dismiss the fact that this particular commentator is rather left wing. Or else… maybe look at the inarguably factual content and ask yourself if the hypnosis-rally at Fox News — which has deliberately torched any thought of compromise, negotiation or discourse in America — is really being perpetrated out of love of this country. Or else, perhaps, our Second Civil War is being instigated by those who want us harm.

== There’s a much bigger threat ==

TransactionFeeTerminateNew York State is (once again) stepping in to do what the US federal government should be doing (if it weren’t deliberately crippled by trumped-up civil war.)  New York’s attorney general has called for curbs on services provided to high-frequency traders, allowing giant firms with superfast AI systems to jump in between buyers and sellers and haul away the value that both saw in making a deal.  In nature this is called predatory parasitism, and I go into detail here: A Transaction Fee Might Save Capital Markets.

It is the next huge scandal.  It could easily be prevented. But the real reason to be concerned is deeper… much, much deeper.  It could make climate change look tame.

In related news…  One person is about to go nuclear in the financial computer arms race. He and his partners will make a $50 billion exaflop supercomputer for foreign exchange trading.

Ah… I, for one, welcome our new Skynet banker-overlords…

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Standing Up for Abe Lincoln

I generally approve of Jon Stewart.  Among many reasons: he brings top opposition guests onto his show and argues with them respectfully, hearkening back to the style of William F. Buckley, on Firing Line… only punctuated with a little elevated potty humor. Stewart’s mostly-liberal audience follows his lead and is generally gracious to major Republican officials or authors… who flock to The Daily Show in order to hawk their books.  Which apparently do gain sales boosts, because Stewart’s viewers are open-minded and curious.  (Otherwise, those Republican authors would stop coming.)

In fact, Stewart has more top opposing guests on his one show than the entire Fox News network. (If you subtract the “adult in the room” at FN — Bill O’Reilly — FN would score zero, most months.)

jon-stewart-napolitanoHence, I wan’t too surprised when Stewart invited Judge Andrew Napolitano to convey his recent tirade – a real hit on Fox – against Abraham Lincoln. It’s one of the most spectacularly deceitful and perniciously vile rants we have seen in an era rife with vile rants, but on the Daily Show Napolitano was allowed to argue his point with Jon Stewart. Then guest historians (in a faux game show called “The Weakest Lincoln“) shot down Napolitano’s purported “facts” amid a tenor of friendly humor. The judge chuckled amiably. Sure. Fine.  I guess.

Still, I was drawn to recall something I read just last November, referring to how the angry white males of the New Confederacy are now dumping all their former heroes, like Adam Smith, whose version of open-fair-flat capitalism is no longer suited to the right’s narrative… and the leader that their parents loved above all others:

150-Lincoln-Gettysburg“How ironic, for this coincides with the passing of the Greatest Generation — men and women who fought down the curse of Hitlerism, who overcame the First Great Depression, who embraced the plan of Marshall, Truman, Acheson and Eisenhower to contain communism peacefully until its fever broke… without nuclear annihilation. All so that their unique nation might live.

“A generation that created the mighty American middle class, amid a burst of entrepreneurial productivity so fantastic that their children could afford to take on ancient evils that all others had taken for granted, like racism, sexism and environmental blindness.  The brave men, living and dead, who struggled in those mighty causes shared one trait more common than any other.  The Greatest Generation adored Franklin Delano Roosevelt — once compared lovingly and in all ways to Lincoln — but who now one third of our fellow citizens have been talked into equating with Satan Incarnate.

“How long until the same thing is done to Honest Abe?”

Okay, I didn’t just read that, last November… I wrote it, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  Indeed, that posting was one of my best and far more worthy of your attention than this little growl.  But it came to mind as Andrew Napolitano’s hateful slander began spewing across the Rupert-verse…. crashing upon the shore of The Daily Show. This spiteful revisionist attack upon Lincoln.

== The essence that Jon Stewart misses ==

denunciation-proclamation Stewart had dealt with some of Napolitano’s incantations in an earlier show. And mind you, there was time to only deal with a few of Napolitano’s “inventive” interpretations of history. Like the fabrication that slavery was “on its way out” in America by 1860 when, in fact, every historical analysis shows it to have been fantastically profitable for the top 0.1% plantation owners — though an economic disaster for poor whites.  Indeed, the total value of southern exports of cotton and tobacco exceeded ALL northern industrial exports at the time.  His screed is based on that outright lie.

Alas, many other falsehoods were left unanswered.  For example, Napolitano asserted the southern states’ top grievance was largely about tariffs.  A howler that slides past because half-educated folks vaguely recall that John C. Calhoun had threatened secession around 1830 over tariffs.  But a closer look shows that the 1830s levels were rescinded to appease the South.  Soon the South took over the federal government for three decades!  By 1860, tariffs were at their lowest rate in half a century.  In other words, the judge just keeps those bald-faced lies a-coming.

PAST-civil-warOf the “grievances” that filled the secession declarations, there is no  mention of “tariffs” or “states rights” even once, though “slavery” is praised in glowing terms in the S. Carolina document, thirty or forty times. The notion that such people would simply have let Lincoln “buy” the slaves’ freedom isn’t just laughable… it is functionally insane.

In fact, the Civil War did not start with the firing on Fort Sumter.  It began in 1852 with the passage – and brutal enforcement – of the Fugitive Slave Act, which led to invasion and outright raids of northern states by squadrons of irregular southern cavalry, committing outrages and depredations from Illinois to Pennsylvania, supported first by southern-appointed U.S. Marshals and later – when locals began resisting – by federal troops.  These slave-catcher raids, smashing into homes, terrorizing neighbors and dragging off friends you knew since childhood, were the prime provocation that radicalized northerners into re-starting their dormant militias. It is what drove many of them to support Lincoln.

Read more about this!  Napolitano rages at Lincoln for continuing to let US Marshals catch and return a few slaves after the Civil War began.  But note these were all along border states like Kentucky, that he was desperate not to rile up and to keep in the Union — touch and go in the first two years.  That may have been iffy realpolitik, but it does not make Lincoln a “kettle” next to the Confederacy’s volcanically evil coal.

== The miscalculation ==

All right, all of that does not matter. What matters is that this time, Jon Stewart deeply miscalculated. He thinks he put Napolitano in his place, amid general hilarity and joviality, by showing some college professors refuting his “facts.”  But watch the clip and look at the judge’s face!  His smile.

He is winning.  Because he is not playing to Stewart’s Daily Show audience. And he is not doing this to convince a majority of Americans.  Certainly not those who would listen to a college professor!

GettysburgAddressLincolnGovernmentNapolitano is part of the Murdochian campaign to keep just 25% of the U.S. public riled up in frothing fury. A New Confederacy that’s so far around the bend they’ll help tear down every consensus effort and success of the American republic since FDR… and even since Lincoln.  So stoked on hatred of “government” that they sincerely want to ensure that “government of the people, by the people, for the people SHALL perish from the Earth.”

Older Republican icons are now toxic. Dwight Eisenhower is assailed as a lackey of FDR. Richard Nixon is called a “liberal”  … (compared to today’s GOP)… and Ronald Reagan is barely mentioned, so soft, progressive and “green” he now seems, by comparison. Confronted with the pro-competition positions of Adam Smith — warning against oligarchy — rightist shills now dismiss Smith as “archaic.”

ReclaimAdamSmith(See “Liberals Should Reclaim Adam Smith: The ‘First Liberal‘!”

Should we be shocked that this radicalization now extends to Abe Lincoln? The Sumter shots of  re-ignited Civil War have been landing for more than a decade in the America that pays the taxes, invents, creates wealth and forges the future. Like our forebears, we who are of cooler blood, steadier emotion and scientific-mindedness have been slow to realize the fiery heat of this assault.  But we’re not lesser men and women than those blue legions who finally stood up when pushed too far.

I said it much better here.  If we must, we’ll rouse and — peacefully, with malice toward none and charity for all, but with the firmness of purpose to do the right, as God allows us to see the right — we’ll struggle for our Union. So that the great American Experiment may go on.

Tuesday evening on The Daily Show, author Paul Taylor discussed the millennial generation and his book The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown.  In discussion with Jon Stewart, Prof. Taylor said that the clade following the millennials… encompassing those born after 2000… does not yet have a name.  Um, well… may I weigh in?

Blackjack-generation-21Way back in 1989, in my novel EARTH, I portrayed folks in the 2030s referring to this generation as “blackjacks”… because they were the first ones born in Century Twenty-One.

Blackjack? Twenty-one? Get it?  Cool, eh?  Oh… never mind…

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Rewriting History and Revisiting 300

300RiseOfAnEmpireAll right, so the sequel is out… and doing well.  The stylish combat film “300: Rise of an Empire” topped the box office last weekend with  $45.1 million, seven years after the original Miller-Snyder flick “300” became an international hit.  I haven’t seen the new one yet, but two thoughts occur to me:

(1) This sequel covers precisely the parts of the story that I have pushed for, ever since the first “300” came out.

That original film, based on a comic book by Frank Miller, told egregious historical lies, cramming into the mouth of the Spartan general- Leonidas — things that he would never have said.  For example dripping contempt for the Athenian shopkeepers and potters and fishermen who had destroyed an entire Persian army, just ten years before, at Marathon.

Spartans still stung with shame over having stayed out of that fight.  But to have Leonidas rant… while ignoring what was in plain view from his cliff-edge… an Athenian-led navy holding the vast Persian fleet at bay, guarding his flank… that omission in “300” slandered Leonidas and betrayed the audience.

300-MILLERAcross six years, I’ve occasionally written about the travesty that the original “300” perpetrates, not only against factual history but against the very notion of democracy and citizenship and the power of volunteers defending their people, homes and nation. I suggested, that any sequel focus on Themistocles and the Athenian fleet – and on the notions of volunteer citizenship that enabled them to keep succeeding where Startans failed — with flashbacks to Marathon and then moving forward to the glorious victory at Salamis, that saved western civilization…

… which is apparently what this new flick does!  Though with lots of Millerian sneering cartoon-villains, when the real thing was dramatic enough.  Ah well.

(2) I’ll go see it.  What the heck?  In hopes that, maybe, Mr. Snyder has decided to love the civilization that’s been good to him, ignoring the incredible hatred of democracy and enlightenment that pervades nearly all of Frank Miller’s works.

 == The Blackjack Generation? ==

Next-America-boomersTuesday evening on The Daily Show, author Paul Taylor discussed the millennial generation and his book The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown.  In discussion with Jon Stewart, Prof. Taylor said that the clade following the millennials… encompassing those born after 2000… does not yet have a name.  Um, well… may I weigh in?

Way back in 1989, in my novel EARTH, I portrayed folks in the 2030s referring to this generation as “blackjacks”… because they were the first ones born in Century Twenty-One.

Blackjack? Twenty-one? Get it?  Cool, eh?  Oh… never mind…

== News flash:  The Justice Department is now conducting two inquiries: 1) looking into whether the CIA illegally snooped on congressional investigators and 2) another looking into whether those same congressional investigators broke the law by sneaking documents out of CIA HQ to protect them from erasure. The accusations include lying to Congress and to the Justice Department, and spying on congressional investigators to hide what the CIA was doing.

== Continuing panic over terror?  ==

So many misconceptions!  During the Obama Administration, the U.S. has suffered its fewest number of terror-related attacks per year of any substance, going back to the 1960s, yet somehow we manage to stay stoked in panic.  In fact, according to a briefing I got last week at the Pentagon, the curves are extremely clear.  International terrorism attacks peaked across the Reagan and Bush administrations at roughly 400 to 500 incidents per year. They plummeted starting around 1992 through a nadir in 2001, the very year of the 9/11 attacks. (Coincidentally, this steep decline encompassed the Clinton years, though the aging out of European radicals probably also played a role.) There was a bit of a rise under GW Bush, though not to pre-Clinton levels.  The decline continued under Obama…

….though the US figure does not apply to the whole world.  The missing jet from Malaysia is deeply worrisome, for example. There are Chechen-related events in Russia and so on.  This is not a call for complacency! Still, it is yet one more reason to choose to shake off our dismal funk and the pessimism foisted on us by cable news.  We still have time to start the “real 21st Century” in a mood of rising confidence.

Wish I could share the chart.  It’s amazing.

== Some folks get-it ==

SURVEILLANCE-COVEILLANCE A WIRED article by Kevin Kelly promotes sousveillance and reciprocal accountability by translating/combining them into the word “coveillance”… a term that may confuse the chemists out there… but that captures the heart of by two-decade argument — that we can negotiate in our own best interests if we can see.

 “A transparent coveillance where everyone sees each other — a sense of entitlement can emerge: Every person has a human right to access, and benefit from, the data about themselves. The commercial giants running the networks have to spread the economic benefits of tracing people’s behavior to the people themselves, simply to keep going.”

And… “Amplified coveillance will shift society to become even more social; more importantly it will change how we define ourselves as humans.”  Interesting!

(Ah, but Kevin… do cite others along the way.)

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“Neo-Reactionaries” drop all pretense: End democracy and bring back lords!

Following up on my previous posting, about the rationalizations of the new aristocracy, this time I plan to reveal to you a pernicious trend among some of society’s best and brightest.  But first, will you indulge me with a riff of background?

In Existence,  I portray a grand conference, held in the Alps around the year 2045.  The secret meeting has been called by a consortium of “trillies,” or trillionaire families, with the objective of commencing a new, world-wide era of Aristocratic Rule.  But their goal is not just to re-institute the ancient pyramid of privileged domination, but this time to start off on the correct foot. To get it right.

Social-pyramidPainfully aware of how gruesomely awful such pyramid-shaped societies were at governance, across the last many-thousands of years — how fraught with violence, delusion, waste and error — the trillie families are nevertheless unable to step back from the approaching time of takeover that their parents had conspired for, all the way back even to the Twentieth Century.  Giving in to human nature, they nurse rationalizations about the failure of democratic systems, and their hired boffins supply them with plenty of incantations to support the coming putsch.  And yet —

Yet, I also describe this particular lordly cartel as smarter than average. They know that the vast, educated middle class has access to powerful technologies that, should they become enraged, could make the guillotine look like louffa. Hence, they take their coming transition to rulership seriously, much as the Medici dukes of Florence did, during the Renaissance. Amid that alpine conclave, I show them calling on their hired intellectuals and house savants to take up the role of Machiavelli. To study and report what went wrong with past eras of oligarchy and feudalism, innovating ways to do it better, this time.

These are deeply cynical scenes!  But still, they also contain my patented brand of optimistic faith in reason: in this case positing that a cabal of trillionaires would have enough honesty and self-awareness to know how badly their favored system worked, in 99% of past human cultures. That they would hire the brightest people they could find (among those who could be trusted to help them end democracy) and ask those boffins to develop modified approaches to aristocracy,  based on lessons from both history and science.

For example, how to avoid catastrophic in-breeding and instead use meritocratic systems to invite the very best commoners upward to join their elite families via marriage and other alliances, at the top. Solving the illusion of superiority by making it — gradually — completely real.

== Fictional wishful-thinking? ==

ThePlutocratsDo I expect such calm and measured sobriety from the New Lords who are — even now — making their moves to restore the ancient social order?  Replacing the middle class, enlightenment, diamond-shaped social order with a traditional pyramid of owner-lord privilege?

Of course not.

For every Lorenzo de Medici or Heny Plantagenet there were hundreds, thousands of fools who let flatterers talk them into believing ego-stroking stories — that they were lords because of their own genius, or inherent superiority, or God-given right.

As I have said many times, this is human nature.  We are all descended from the harems of guys who pulled off this trick. Voluptuous delusions run through our veins, so strongly that it’s amazing the Enlightenment Miracle was ever tried at all, let alone that it lasted as long as it has.

== The rise of the Neo-Reactionaries ==

Till now, the Enlightenment had several things going for it: like the fact that it works.

For three hundred years, in realms as diverse as science, wealth-creation, error-avoidance, innovation, justice and happiness, it has outperformed all previous societies combined. But that is not the secret sauce. Its key trick, above all, was a very strong mythology of egalitarianism, individualism, pragmatism and liberality —

Four-Arenas-Competition— the ideal of a level and fair playing field, in which good ideas should win out over bad ones, without interference by stodgy or biased authorities. Adam Smith taught us — and the American Founders instituted — ways to benefit from arenas of competition in which no single person’s (or narrow cabal’s) delusions may reign — but instead products, policies, theories and justice are wrangled, tested and refined in four great arenas — markets, democracy, science and courts — where avoidance of criticism or error-discovery is difficult, even impossible over the long run.

They never worked perfectly and were always under attack by cheaters.  Still, these accountability arenas are the only systems that ever penetrated our species’s penchant for delusion in any systematic way.  Leftists who despise competition in principle are fools who ignore both human nature and a cornucopia of positive-sum outcomes from the four arenas.

Rightists who believe competition works well without careful tuning, regulation, research, opportunity-enhancement, shared investment in infrastructure, and (above all) relentless prevention-of-cheating are even worse fools who ignore all our past.

CourtsEven that most-solipsistic of clades, the libertarians, used to declare fealty to Adam Smith’s process, albeit grudgingly. But you had only to look at their favorite books and stories to detect an undercurrent and foretell that it would emerge openly, someday, into betrayal of Smith. Idolatry of the Nietzschean ubermensch or superman — the figure every geek supposes himself to be — oppressed and kept from his natural place on-top by jealous mobs of bullies, like those who oppressed him on the playground.  Where every young nerd (myself included) muttered: “just you wait till I come into my powers!”

IAAMOACFrom Ayn Rand to Harry Potter to Star Wars to Orson Scott Card, how many mythologies have catered to that fantasy, in all its voluptuous, masturbatory solipsism?  In contrast, can you count any mythic systems — other than Star Trek — that encouraged a different view? Recognition that “I am a member of a civilization”? One that made million miracles possible? Not by unleashing a few demigods, but by stimulating the efforts of whole scads of bright folks who are merely way above-average?

Well, the pretense may be over, fellas and gals.  Welcome to Nietzsche World.

Welcome to the Rapture of the Ingrates.

It is called the Neo-Reactionary Movement”  — a quasi-new cult that yearns for the ancien régime of monarchy and feudal rule. One that rejects Adam Smith and Franklin and the entire Enlightenment.  And above all — democracy.

== Yearning for the “Return of the King.” ==

Rise-Neo-ReactionariesI’ll let Klint Finley describe this movement for you, in a few paragraphs clipped from his excellent article on the subject: Geeks for Monarchy: The Rise of the Neo-Reactionaries:

“Neoreactionaries believe that while technology and capitalism have advanced humanity over the past couple centuries, democracy has actually done more harm than good. They propose a return to old-fashioned gender roles, social order and monarchy.”

Finley continues“Perhaps the one thing uniting all neoreactionaries is a critique of modernity that centers on opposition to democracy in all its forms. Many are former libertarians who decided that freedom and democracy were incompatible.

“Demotist systems, that is, systems ruled by the ‘People,’ such as Democracy and Communism, are predictably less financially stable than aristocratic systems,” a leading light of this movement, Michael Anissimov writes. “On average, they undergo more recessions and hold more debt. They are more susceptible to market crashes. They waste more resources. Each dollar goes further towards improving standard of living for the average person in an aristocratic system than in a Democratic one.”

Is this just a fluke? No, the movement has been long-simmering. It reminds me of a statement made by Star Wars impresario George Lucas in an infamous 1999 New York Times interview. “Not that we need a king, but there’s a reason why kings built large palaces, sat on thrones and wore rubies all over. There’s a whole social need for that, not to oppress the masses, but to impress the masses and make them proud and allow them to feel good about their culture, their government and their ruler so that they are left feeling that a ruler has the right to rule over them, so that they feel good rather than disgusted about being ruled. In the past, the media basically worked for the state and was there to build the culture. Now, obviously, in some cases it got used in a wrong way and you ended up with the whole balance of power out of whack. But there’s probably no better form of government than a good despot.”  

Every time I read that, it leaves me breathless. Stunned. I appraised that perspective – and its toxic lesson – in Star Wars on Trial.  Indeed, I have elsewhere explored the emotional underpinnings of all this:

“Wouldn’t life seem richer, finer if we still had kings? If the guardians of wisdom kept their wonders locked up in high wizard towers, instead of rushing onto PBS the way our unseemly “scientists” do today? Weren’t miracles more exciting when they were doled out by a precious few, instead of being commercialized, bottled and marketed to the masses for $1.95? Didn’t we stop going to the moon because it had become boring?”

Neo-Reactionary-Glossary

The temptation to wallow in romance — in fiction — is understandable.  To prescribe feudalism for real life, though?

Oh, where to begin on this grotesque — and  poisonously romantic — wrongheadedness?   Shall we start with the way that these fellows erect edifices of assertions that, when examined, prove to be not only untrue, but spectacularly and diametrically opposite to true? Like maintaining that Hitler and Stalin were epiphenomena of democracy, and not absolutist-oligarchist reactions to democracy — attempts to throttle it to death, erecting new elites, complete with harems? Or the way no ancient autarchy ever “got done” even a scintilla’s percentage of the accomplishments of any modern democracy.

The list of staggering rationalizations is too long for me to even ponder addressing, from ignoring Adam Smith’s denunciations of aristocracy as the core enemy of enterprise, to the bizarre belief that you can have economic freedom without any of the political kind, or that the clearly nasty and stupid rulership pattern of 6000 years should ever, ever again be trusted with anything more than a burnt match. Or that Communism was somehow a version of democracy, instead of a quasi-feudal theocratic cult that relentlessly spewed hatred at “bourgeoise democracy.” Or the way they rail against the Hayekian sin of “too few allocators and deciders” when it is committed by civil servants, yet justify narrow cliques of conniving group-think lords who do the same thing, just because they are “private.”

Above all, the hoary and utterly disproved nostrum that bourgeois citizens are fiscally less prudent than kings and lords, a slander that is as counterfactual as claiming day is night.

Fortunately, I do not have to refute this nonsense in detail, myself. Finley links to Anissimov’s manifestos — and many others’ — against modernity, democracy and enlightenment… so go ahead and give their own words a fair shake. Read the incantations! I have faith in you.

Anti-Reactionary-FAQThen head over to a marvelous, point-by-point refutation provided by Scott Alexander showing, among other things, how neo-reactionaries overestimate by many orders of magnitude the stability or governing aptitude of monarchies.  Alexander recently published an Anti-Reactionary FAQ, a massive document examining and refuting the claims of neoreactionaries.

Seriously, it is huge but painstakingly detailed, accurate and devastating. You need to give it a look. Alexander writes very well, entertainingly, and this vote of confidence in YOU needs to circulate as widely as possible.

== Disproof by example ==

Let me clip just one short part of Mr. Alexander’s devastating refutation of those who contend that absolute monarchy, following ancient principles, will outperform democracy, equal rights and all that decadent western crap. He starts by suggesting the simplest and most fair experimental test of rhe neo-reactionary assertion.  That we take a very homogeneous country and split it in half.

“One side gets a hereditary absolute monarch, whose rule is law and who is succeeded by his son and by his son’s son. The population is inculcated with neo-Confucian values of respect for authority, respect for the family, strict gender roles and cultural solidarity, but these values are supplemented by a religious ideal honoring the monarch as a near-god and the country as a specially chosen holy land. American cultural influence is banned on penalty of death; all media must be produced in-country, and missionaries are shot on site. The country’s policies are put in the hands of a group of technocratic nobles hand-picked by the king.

“The other side gets flooded with American missionaries preaching weird sects of Protestantism, and at the point of American guns is transformed into a parliamentary democracy. Its economy – again at the behest of American influence – becomes market capitalism, regulated by democracy and bureaucracy. It institutes a hundred billion dollar project to protect the environment, passes the strictest gun control laws in the world, develops a thriving gay culture, and elects a woman as President.

“Turns out this perfect controlled experiment actually happened. Let’s see how it turned out!”

zrx_image19Alexander then provides an image that speaks ten thousand words.

Some of you know the experiment to which he refers.  North and South Korea.

Oh, but read this section.  Read the rest.  And marvel that bright males (almost no women, of course) are able to talk themselves into believing factually-opposite, example-free, history-ignoring, human nature-ignoring and cosmically stupid incantations, just because it flatters their playground-traumatized imaginations to imagine that — in a world of far more limited opportunities and justice — they would somehow get to be the ones with harems.

== We generate our own, home-grown enemies ==

It is said that every generation is invaded by a fresh spate of invaders — their children. In our case, western civilization has raised many generations steeped in memes of suspicion of authority and questioning the home-and-familiar, one of the most unusual things that any culture ever preached to its own offspring!  I appraise this reflex favorably in my essay and book Otherness.  These memes are what led to so many successive self-improvement campaigns, from constitutionalism to elimination of slavery. They led us hippies – for example – to march against horridly assumptions that all other generations took for granted — wasteful and inherently impractical superstitions like racism, sexism and environmental blindness.  They also guarantee that new immunal rejection reflexes will be applied against the Boomers’ assumption sets by even-newer generations!  So be it.

To an extent, this is a core element of the Enlightenment’s healthy process of advancement and renewal. Heaven forbid that the young stop getting in their elders’ faces, confronting their mistakes.  But T-cells that go screeching through the body looking for mistakes are not always right! And many a sanctimonious twit of both right and left conveys more heat than light.  More noise than value.

better-angels-of-our-natureIn this case of the neo-reactionaries, you have a cult of ingratitude that should incur at least a burden of scholarly proof. Certainly not being allowed to get away with blithe assertions and bald-faced lies. For example, I have again and again pointed out recent evidence — such as Steven Pinker’s book on declining world violence — that we have good news to build upon.  Open and reciprocal criticism helped to make the violence decline happen!  Along with steep plummets in world (per capita) poverty and so on.  That’s a lot of accomplishment to overcome, in claiming that kings could do better.

In fact, I know — and rather enjoy — some of these fellows, such as Anissimov and Peter Thiel, whose other accomplishments are respect-worthy and whose lively, vivid minds make up for abstract disagreements.  There are areas of common ground! Like the long range goal of a world that overflows with empowered and sovereign individuals, needing little in the way of regulation or constraint, a shared dream, even if we part company over how to get there.

Indeed, some of them have legitimate complaints — in the nitty gritty of the details of running a complex, democratic civilization. Fine.  Want to propose alternatives? Experiments? Deregulations? Criticism is a feature, not a flaw of demotic life, part of the completely unique ferment that generally keeps us moving forward. (For example, I have no objections — only questions – regarding Thiel’s endeavor to create new sovereignties out at sea.) You want to offer innovations and solutions and evidence, along with those wild-eyed assertions? Well, you know…

…we’d all love to see your plan.

== We are still the revolution ==

Alas though, they tend not to view things that way. Here I am speculating: but I believe that some of these fellows have swung this way because they are too smart to be fooled any longer by the undead thing that has hijacked American conservatism, sending poor Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley spinning so fast that Arizona and New York draw electricity from their graves.  Having driven off all the nation’s scientists, teachers, doctors and every other clade of “smartypants” professionals, the New GOP could hardly hold on to brainiac Silicon Valley libertarians, who can see the unalloyed record of catastrophic governance and universally bad outcomes from the Bush years.

But what’s the alternative? Preachy, smarmy, compromising-consensualist and preachy-progressivist liberalism?  Never.

Let’s give them points for imagination, then, finding a new — or rather, ancient — direction to call their own.  Even though Neo-Reaction winds up as delusional as any dogma issued by the House of Ailes.

Rather than picturing themselves as part of Adam Smith’s flat and open competitive churn,  Neo-Reactionaries prefer to envision a kind of uprising or counter-reformation. An up-ending and reversal of what they see as a decadent experiment in mob rule, gone wrong, demanding that we return to the beastly way of life that oppressed and limited and cauterized all of our ancestors (including the lords!) — only getting it right, this time.  A way of life that (I admit) is the natural human attractor state! One that caters to every romantic impulse behind the popularity of fantasy tales of Martin, Lucas or Tolkien. One that is darwinistically so compelling and natural that it probably snared most intelligent races in our galaxy — a top potential explanation for the Fermi Paradox. An attractor state called feudalism.

An attractor that is yanking hard on us now, as would-be lords deliberately instigate a fresh phase of Civil War to cripple American pragmatism and institutions, throwing into imbalance all four of those great, positive-sum accountability arenas upon which our Great Experiment relies.  But it won’t work.

OligarchistsThey do not get to call themselves rebels!  We and our Enlightenment are the revolutionaries, still, beating down the repeated, clawing assaults of oligarchists from all sides, some of whom called themselves “communists,” but always prescribing the same, boring pyramid of power.

These guys face a steep burden of proof that we should reject the social contract that brought them to their high status, in a civilization that may — in just two generations — embark upon interstellar adventures, bringing light, at last, to the galaxy.

Amid the Rapture of the Ingrates, they are welcome to contend (it’s a free country) that we’d all be far better off if the west had not followed the advice of Locke and Montesquieu and Franklin and Smith and all the other heroes — the greatest our species ever produced — who rebelled against oligarchic rule, giving us one chance — perhaps only this one — to try something else.

They are free to offer that assertion. But I am (nodding thanks to all those heroes) equally empowered to say bullshit.

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