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On Reviving Authoritarianism

In a crowded world, a more authoritarian system becomes necessary.  Liberty and loose rules are privileges of those who have plenty of space and resources.  It comes as little surprise that America prides itself as the world champion of freedoms for the average person.  It is of course the nation that had an entire continent to grow into.  However, America’s days as a frontier society are over.  Always before, the problems that arise from society’s natural injustices could be deferred.  There was always a safety valve.
Now for the first time in about 400 years, the North American settlers have to deal with the same problems everyone else on earth has to deal with, vast masses of poor and disenfranchised with nowhere to go.
For the last few decades, American society has been in petulant denial like a toddler used to getting candy on demand. The tantrum has been especially stubborn and intense because there was a final big binge of halloween candy after WW2 with all the world’s demand to satisfy and all the other great competing economies burnt to the ground.  Now the holiday is over and life is back to normal.

I have read writings by those who call themselves neo-reactionaries, some of whom believe we should return to monarchy. I find there are many merits in their arguments.  Historically, there have been powerful rulers in most places most of the time. Republics and democracies have been few and far between and the best of them have been far shorter lived than even mediocre kingdoms. Even those representative governments that have existed have been oligarchic with most people as slaves and the voting citizenry a limited elite.
On its founding, even the American republic was intended to have suffrage limited to owners of substantial land and property.
The form that the USA eventually assumed, a large representative republic with nearly universal adult suffrage was unprecedented in history. These extraordinary freedoms were made possible by control of a large, sparsely populated, resource rich area surrounded by weak neighbors separated from everyone else by vast oceans. Crowded European states have adopted the trappings of US democracy since they’ve had nukes and/or weak neighbors but they have always by necessity had far more rules and taxes. Americans can kick, scream, and gnash their teeth all they like, but the system will continue to drift towards tighter order and stricter rules. There will be a steady push towards a new authoritarianism as serious problems fester and it becomes painfully clear that a democracy that’s indecisive by design is incapable of dealing with them. The Roman Republic in its twilight was forced to bend the rules more and more to deal with crisis situations until the old precedents became meaningless. Perhaps the facade of a republic remains for awhile, as it did in Ancient Rome, but eventually there is no need to pretend anymore.

Neo-reactionary monarchists have many good points and they understand correctly where things are headed. However, going back to monarchs as they were is impossible.  Too many people have too much information. Justifying the King’s power by divine right worked when most people were illiterate and ignorant. Mass literacy seriously damaged the power of monarchy and a host of other new information technologies finished it off. Today too many people are able to see that Frank next door might be smarter and more competent than a monarch whose every tic and nose pick is known to all. There would be no way to sustain the illusion of divinity when people know too much. An example is Emperor Hirohito of Japan, a mostly ceremonial monarch who was built up as a divinity and kept out of the public eye. When he personally announced the Japanese surrender on radio millions were astonished that he sounded just like an ordinary man. Worse, the occupying Americans had no qualms about using him for photo-ops and one picture with a 6 foot tall MacArthur towering over him became especially famous. A divine ruler was possible before mass literacy, photos, and videos because it was possible to cultivate an awe-inspiring air of mystery about him. In the modern world, only North Korea is committed to the information blackout necessary to support their own king as a divine ruler just as if the ancient kingdom of Koguryo had never ended.

There will be a return to authoritarianism, but not with the same foundations as before. Legitimacy for a successful oligarchy, will have to be secured by some form of meritocracy.
The average person must be convinced that they couldn’t step up and do a better job.
Neo-reactionaries understand correctly that post-enlightened rulers can’t coast on hype. They will have to become worthy to rule and then stay worthy. Being on top will mean being the best.
Rather than Divine Right rulers of the future must be backed by Divine Justice or else lose the mandate of heaven.

See also: Only Young Societies Are Egalitarian

Politics is Changing Because of Internet and Social Media

It has been a delicious spectacle to watch new competitors not only messily shit all over business as usual in politics, but actually take over the existing party machinery for themselves.  There’s something poetic about that since the established parties protected their mediocrity by rigging the system against competitors.  It ends with their own weaponry turned against them.
I have been typically apathetic towards politics, but it has been a particular fixation of mine to watch the consensus that has existed all my life begin to finally burn down.

There’s a lot of talk as to why this movement is finally happening now even though people have complained about “choosing the lesser evil” for decades.
It’s simple.
a) enough people are getting desperate enough.
b) more importantly, the internet is maturing as a technology and we are beginning to feel its true impact.

The internet is the new printing press. It changes society by dramatically increasing people’s access to information. The original printing press set up the right circumstances for the emergence of mass literacy. The trouble with mass literacy was that traditional monarchy, religion, and social mores were predicated on most people having very little access to information.
The change was slow but steady and sure. Over a few centuries, more abundant information made kingdoms and empires non-viable. In the age of the railroad and telegraph, nation-states began to replace the old kingdoms in earnest and WW1 settled the matter.
The emergence of radio and television provided more access to information but ended up bolstering the power of nation-state because both mediums were very easily controlled from tiny centralized sources.
The internet as a decentralized medium was always going to be a challenge to the order of nations.
It was already beginning to destabilize things as a minority of curious people browsed nerdy websites on their PCs. This was the printing press. Then “mass literacy” began to take hold with the advent of social media that involved ordinary people in online discourse. In 2008, Barack Obama soared to victory as the candidate of the internet. Around 2011-2012 we saw twitter riots in Tunisia and Egypt spread to the Western World as Occupy Wall Street. This spate of activity was startling but not enough to upend business as usual. One more development was needed. The spread of smartphones has finally sealed the deal. No longer can “soundbites” on TV and radio, or “experts” in the newspapers decisively control public opinion.
It took over 300 years for the implications of the printing press to be felt in full. The internet in 30 years is making an impact much faster since it is
a) orders of magnitude beyond previous breakthroughs—even the printing press at first just gave people access to the bible, a few classics, and public posters and pamphlets.
b) starting off with a society that already has orders of magnitude more information and wealth than was available in 15th century Europe.

Even so, we are just beginning to understand how big the implications are. I’ve already guessed that nation-states and their political systems will be replaced altogether by more cohesive “tribe-states” steadily over time just as a literate public inevitably led to empires being replaced by nation-states. Each increase in access to information has made possible finer gradations of mass political organization:
Empires – Political associations decided by force of arms.
Kingdoms – Association often decided by some precedent of cultural cohesion at least in a core region, with subjugated peoples surrounding.
Nation-states – Association decided by common language, culture, and in varying degrees, ethnicity.
Tribe-states – Affiliation by one’s natural proclivities and values within a larger population. Ordinary people with incredible logistical capabilities and access to information allows cohesive bands to avoid being subjugated by massive bureaucracy-bound states. The development of politics goes full circle from small tribes that were subjugated by empires based in the first cities.

Politics has always been about “choosing the lesser evil.”
Empires/Kingdoms – The ruler taxes people to bare subsistence, but if you don’t back him, his competitors’ armies will destroy what little you have.
Nation States – Any sort of republic leaves most people mostly unsatisfied but properly implemented can maintain a tepid status-quo.
Tribe States – Most people get the society they want; that’s what defines this type of association.

Each upgrade in access to information enables people to pursue their interests more effectively. This is why the ruling classes have always wanted the masses to remain hobbled by ignorance but once a major new advance spreads, they can only struggle to contain it until they finally cease to be relevant.

There has been a growing inability of US political factions to reach compromises as each insists on fully realizing its agenda. When representatives have tried to behave more moderately, their constituents have denounced and abandoned them.
Not only is a shrinking pie making people more urgent, fewer are satisfied with getting only a part of their demands met. The masses begin to intuitively sense that it is now viable to associate more finely to more effectively get what they want. There’s no more Soviet Union, nukes make conventional wars unlikely, and internet allows people to associate with those most like them and pursue their shared objectives.
From now on, the alignment of tribes, not of entrenched parties will be the shaping force in the politics of nations.

Every Purchase Is A Vote

Whenever we walk into a store we can measure how much we’re like everyone else.  Imagine a planet where everyone was you.  What then would the inside of the store look like?  All the things you like would be available in abundance, their prices driven down by economy of scale.  How close then is the existing store to the theoretical ideal that serves you best?  We can’t expect everyone to be the same in real life; without the purchases of many different people, there could be no store.  So we must be willing to sacrifice some of our individual preferences to have a market.
The influence of our own vote though is tiny so we must have some significant overlap with other people for the offerings of the store to yield us benefits.  If most customers don’t want some of the same things we want, the store is useless to us.  A man, for instance, will likely never have any need for women’s clothing stores because he lacks overlap with the targeted electorate.
Imagine for a moment the store we’ve walked into is a grocery store.  The initial overlap in needs is very high.  Everyone gets hungry, so we have a great test case.  When we look at the store shelves, we see a purer sort of democracy than has ever existed in politics.  What’s for sale is what everybody wants.
What if most people want junk food though?  The grocery store will have lots of cheap junk food and the substantial food will be scarcer and higher in price.  Perhaps it just points to the reason why there never has been a true political democracy.  The masses might well make terrible decisions.  A people cannot survive leadership without some semblance of order and quality control.  But they can survive the consequences of eating too much cookie dough ice cream, at least in the short term.

We can draw a similar analogy with book stores.  We want to read, but the store is of no value to us if the only books available are sensational slush.  In this case, the mass of other people out there has proven to be a liability to our interests because of their lack of overlap concerning the details of an item we want.  And our paltry votes don’t even make a dent.

Let us look at the bestseller lists for books too, and the top 25 in music.  Or how about the most popular television shows and movies?  In a decently ok world, most items on these lists should be among the best, right?  But what if to our horror, we consistently see works of low quality, or insipid mediocrity exalted by the collective?
If you don’t like what most people like, you are in a way living in a zombie apocalypse, surrounded by shambling throngs of people whose tastes and interests run contrary to your own in every way imaginable.  Your voice is drowned out while everyone rushes to the theaters to see the next remake of a remake.

If you or I were to conclude our nature and preferences have remarkably little overlap with most other people out there, it does not make sense to make the sacrifices required to participate in their collective pools.  Banding with the masses proves more a liability than a benefit.  It makes far more sense to find those with a higher degree of overlap even if they’re just a few and pooling one’s demand with them instead, while isolating oneself from the slavering zombie hordes.

It is on this basis of collective compatibility that would underlie a modern caste system.  In the case of economics, each cluster of preferences would occupy separate markets from food, to clothing, and entertainment.  Perhaps such distinctions already exist informally, but it takes considerable knowledge, deep affiliations, and especially sheer wealth to sort out what belongs to one’s proper sphere.
In a more formalized order, each strata has no need to waste energy on self discovery, they naturally gravitate towards their proper places and live their whole lives therein, their votes compatible with the other voters of their breed.  With a more stable hierarchy, less struggle takes place and far more gets done.

If we consider grocery stores again.  There already are grocers that cater to different tastes, but they do so mostly through being more expensive.  They decisively segregate their clientele using high prices but in so doing produce a form of value signalling rather than pure optimization.
In a correctly stratified caste system, a store ought not to rely first on higher prices as an isolating mechanism but instead be able to focus on being able to provide the best possible value given the votes of the consumers of the higher castes.
We may consider pure status signalling such as paying extra for ‘organic’ produce a penalty that certain voters agree to pay in order to form a barrier.  But if such a barrier is already formalized by the agreement of voters, then there is no need to pay such penalties and all effort can be put into providing the best value possible for the voting coalition.
We can imagine similar principles applied to real estate.  Those who pay high prices to keep undesirables out of their supermarkets apply the same tactics to property ownership and school districts.  Again, the cadre of voters in an unstable hierarchy is forced to pay penalties to segregate themselves into a mutually beneficial electorate.  In a stable caste hierarchy, their neighborhoods and schools are delineated by force of their votes, leaving them free to build value rather than spend most of their wealth insulating themselves against incompatible demographics.
As it is, many people try to isolate themselves from the gales of popular mediocrity by working long hours for decades.  So hard is their task that they barely manage to reproduce, managing only to replace themselves in the best of times.  The most productive creatures effectively barely scrape by at subsistence.
Because their natural habitat is saturated by hostile tribes unless they build cost-prohibitive barriers, they are forced to spend most of their effort just trying to chisel out their desired place, which in a Correct order should be theirs by natural right.

As a final thought experiment, consider how idiotic most advertisements are on television, youtube, and in print.  This is what most people find persuasive or these ads would not exist.  Every advertisement is a glimpse into the heart of the average person.  Don’t like what you see?  Then you are participating in the wrong commercial electorate.
How would advertising change then if we dominated the commercial electorate?  Would it even exist in the same form?

See Also:  Shelters From Planned Obsolescence,
Friction of Association and Social Selectivity

Political Democracy is Just One Type of Democracy

We’ve concluded that the state cannot be changed just by shuffling around governments, since the quality of rulership is decided by the nature of the population.
Russians, for instance have always had autocratic, brutal, corrupt governments no matter if it’s a monarchy, communist dictatorship, or a democracy.  The English on the other hand had strong councils of representatives whether there was a monarch, a theocratic dictator, constitutional monarch, or a democracy.  The French defaulted to an order of centralized semi-autocracy, never quite leaving behind the authoritarian ways of their old monarchy, whether under Robespierre, Napoleon, Napoleon III, or DeGaulle.  How important then is the label?

Since government merely reflects the nature of its people, it becomes clear if we want to change a state, first we have to produce a change in its people.
But it’s impossible to produce any rapid change in the nature of a population.  We should sooner try to cool down the ocean by throwing in ice cubes.  This is the hard truth that every victorious revolutionary, political reformer, or activist soon discovers.

The most obvious way we might control the expression of a population is not to change it, but to distort its expression.  To accomplish this, we decide who to enfranchise the most to bring about the best results a people is capable of supplying.  In the process of politics then, we make sure those most inimical to an effective state have no vote at all, those of middling character get one vote, and the best of the race, a single vote that outweighs many lesser votes.
This after all, is the proposition made by a classical republic.  In the Roman Republic, the groups of people voted in “tribes” not at all equal in representation.  Plebeians despite their greater number were outweighed by the clout of the patrician classes in a vote.
In the early American republic, only those who owned sufficient property, giving them a real stake in the system of governance, were allowed to cast votes concerning the government.
Only by the 1820s was America well along the path to its transformation into a popular democracy.
However, no truly pure democracy has ever existed.
In Ancient Athens only an elite class granted the title of ‘citizen’ had the vote.
In America, several methods of strategic distortion of the popular will persist to this day.  The bicameral system that distorts the clout of representatives numbered according to population by the addition of senators who are equal in number and power, even if they are sent to the capital from sparsely populated mountains, desert, or tundra.  And of course, the electoral college that simplifies the popular vote into a winner-takes-all system.  Not to mention a great many who are only appointed by elected officials, elected by proxy, such as the entire judicial branch.
Even the American popular democracy is imbued with an inherent distrust of the unalloyed popular will built into it by its founders and reinforced by three centuries of their successors.
So the question is not whether to distort the popular will, but how it should best be done.

But…I began this entry commenting that governments alone cannot achieve the greater purpose.

Our first step is to observe that government is just one sort of democracy decided by the people in aggregate.  We can think of several great democracies, of which government is by far the least significant.

Political democracy – Every vote elects a representative.

Economic democracy – Every purchase is a vote that elects a product.

Social democracy – Every value someone holds is a vote that elects a society.

Biological democracy – Every child conceived is a vote that elects a people.

I will hope to discuss each in turn.

Plato, Democracy, and Mob Rule

By the 4th century BC, civilizations had already existed for at least a couple thousand years.
By then, most of the basic patterns of civilization were ancient news.

Plato’s observations about governments over 2,000 years ago might seem disturbingly familiar to us now.

Humans may boast of mechanical technologies such as airplanes and atomic bombs, but social technology, the ways we organize haven’t changed since the very first farming villages:

“Every form of government tends to perish by excess of its basic principle.  Aristocracy ruins itself by limiting too narrowly the circle within which power is confined; oligarchy ruins itself by the incautious scramble for immediate wealth.  In either case the end is revolution.   When revolution comes, it may seem to arise from little causes and petty whims…when a body is weakened by neglected ills, the merest exposure may bring serious disease.

Then democracy comes…But even democracy ruins itself by excess-of democracy.  Its basic principle is the equal right of all to hold office and determine public policy.  This is at first glance a delightful arrangement; it becomes disastrous because the people are not properly equipped by education to select the best rulers and the wisest courses.

As to the people, they have no understanding, and only repeat what their rulers are pleased to tell them.  To get a doctrine accepted or rejected it is only necessary to have it praised or ridiculed in a popular play.
Mob-rule is a rough sea for the  ship of state to ride; every wind of oratory stirs up the waters and deflects the course.

The upshot of such a democracy is tyranny or autocracy; the crowd so loves flattery…that at last the wiliest and most unscrupulous flatterer, calling himself the ‘protector of the people’ rises to supreme power.

Plato complains that whereas in simpler matters—like shoe-making—we think only a specially-trained person will serve our purpose, in politics we presume that every one who knows how to get votes knows how to administer a city or a state.  When we are ill we call for a trained physician, whose degree is a guarantee of specific preparation and technical competence—we do not ask for the handsomest physician, or the most eloquent one…when the whole state is ill should we not look for the service and guidance of the wisest and the best?   To devise a method of barring incompetence and knavery from public office, and of selecting and preparing the best to rule for the common good—that is the problem of political philosophy.”

-Plato as quoted, paraphrased, and summarized by Will Durant

The Story of Philosophy
Will Durant, 1953, Pocket Books, Washington Square Press
Excerpts from pages 20-21

Democracy At Its Worst: Why Athens Fell

For years, Athens had two dominant men, the conservative Nicias and the flamboyant Alcibiades who countered each other’s designs at every turn.

Nicias wanted to mostly focus on defending Athenian territories and ending war with the Spartan alliance if possible.

Alcibiades wanted to take the fight to the Spartans.

Had either of these men gotten their way, it seems likely that Athens would have survived.

The combination of both fighting for power at every turn destroyed Athens.

When Nicias succeeded in making peace with the Spartans, Alcibiades sabotaged the peace.

When Alcibiades wanted to fight in Sicily, Nicias tried to sabotage him.

The ultimate worst case scenario of democracy followed:

Nicias made a public speech in which he proposed an absurd force both in size and composition that would be required to invade Sicily.
His intent was to discourage the public from supporting the expedition.

Instead: the masses loved his idea. They loved it so much that his absurd proposition became the actual Athenian force.
Nicias, who wanted to halt the entire operation was elected to be one of the generals commanding the expedition against his will.

Things could still have turned out alright.

But even as the invasion fleet was headed for Sicily, Alcibiades was recalled to Athens for accusations of treason and sacrilege.

They were still arguing over who was in command and sabotaging one another while on the way to battle!

Alcibiades had to go back home to stand trial: he was the guy who had wanted a Sicilian Expedition in the first place!
And Nicias was now commanding an expedition he had actively opposed!!

Knowing he would likely face death and disgrace back at home, Alcibiades escaped and actually defected to the Spartans.

Now not only was the huge Athenian invasion force already a confused mess, Alcibiades was in Sparta giving the Spartans valuable military intelligence and advising them to send their own expedition to counter the Athenians in Sicily.

Even now things might not have been a total disaster but bad decisions continued to combine to create the perfect storm.

Not only did the Athenian invasion force fail: it was wiped out.

And so an enormous amount of wealth and a large portion of the entire male population of Athens had just been flushed down the toilet.

Athens was doomed.


Also most of what I’ve written here I got from reading Donald Kagan’s Peloponnesian War.




Democracy In The Americas – Beyond Elections

From Venezuela’s Communal Councils, to Brazil’s Participatory Budgeting; from Constitutional Assemblies to grassroots movements, recuperated factories to cooperatives across the hemisphere- This documentary is a journey, which takes us across the Americas, to attempt to answer one of the most important questions of our time: What is Democracy? (Click through to link for full list)

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