Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The Charlottesville problem or, the only salvation is less freedom, not more

History shows the left employing coordinated subversive techniques across the world to advance its cause, and it was extremely successful. Now, it seems the right is doing the same thing, though on a smaller scale.

This is a terrible idea. Let me explain.

A mob tore down the monument to Confederate soldiers in Durham, NC, this week. Up to eight people now face charges. Since statue desecration is what the original protests from people who call themselves the right was all about, it's more important to understand the significance of real-life deconstruction than whatever else happened last weekend.

We first need to appreciate that 41 of the 56 writers of the US Constitution were slaveholders. This is the history of the US. Slaveholders throughout history have invented things. Does their slaveholding make technology morally disgusting? Are Plato's ideas less instructive because he owned humans? Does the fact that US founders held slaves make what they wrote illegitimate?


That's an important question, perhaps the most important, especially if that question is transactional. What’s going on here is the creation of a popular movement by way of denigration of anyone who once held slaves. The goal appears to be to undermine and delegitimise the constitution of the United States of America. Quick, someone call Nicholas Cage.

All crimes need a motive. So what's the incentive for this seditious goal? Simple: No matter how much they claim otherwise, progressives can't stand the constitution. They hate it. To progressives, freedom of speech isn't a right, it is a tool. It was useful for progressives when they needed to capture power but now that they have power they strategically deny those rights to their domestic enemies. This is what people in power do.

But, because there are still plenty of Americans who were brought up believing in the foundational texts of the constitution, the progressive movement is always stopped just short of consolidating its control over the entire American polity. Capturing the Supreme Court (the seat of actual power in the US) has proven bittersweet because traditionalists can still enter and legitimately occupy permanent positions to slow "progress" down.

And there's only so much power in the civil service (the seat of formal power in the US), which is also under progressive capture. Although the civil service has less oversight than the Supreme Court due to the sheer volume of policy flowing out of Washington, few people have the time or inclination to check whether its actions are allowed under the constitution. The civil service gets away with a lot, believe me.

The Constitution is the only thing stopping the US from collapsing into an outright progressive/top-down/socialist state. To fix this conundrum, progressives are demonising anyone in America's history on moral grounds - based on today's concept of morality - if they held slaves. This is a clever move and I'd be impressed if it weren't so insidious. Once this propaganda starts to run by its own steam, the progressives can create a set of victory conditions by which the US populace actually considers the Constitution null and void. The path to revocation starts with morally vilifying slaveholders, which leads to corruption of the authors in the minds of the populace for whom the logical connection is then made to destroy the document so they can collectively reach absolution. If the Constitution is for the people and by the people, then only the people can destroy it.

Progressives know that if they were to unilaterally abrogate the founding document tomorrow, there would be blood in the streets, and not just from the people wearing tinfoil hats. Classical liberals would sharpen pitchforks too. It would be a terrible optics. The game is to use the tool of democracy to get the people themselves to rise up and remove the only thing protecting them from tyranny and horror of a totalitarian ideology. This kind of thing has been done before, ain't no reason to think it couldn't be done again.

This is why protesting and acts of terror are such a silly ideas for those who consider themselves to be on the actual right. By the way, don't confuse the actual right with "conservatives." The latter are merely laggard progressives defending everything the progressive movement agitated for 30 years ago (what conservative would dare propose revoking gay rights, for instance?). Conservatives don't deserve your energy. America's ruling class shops at Whole Foods. If this totally rocks your world, maybe your world needed a little rocking.

One synonym for "ruling class" is "policymakers." The people who rule are the ones who formulate the policies which the government carries out. These are not the people you see on TV. The people you see on TV are actors. Their job is to read lines. There is a small Republican policy-making machine offering mild dissident ideas on a variety of issues. Sometimes in exceptional circumstances, these ideas are even adopted - as with the "neocons" last decade - because they help spread the progressive gospel further across the planet. The rest of Washington then exerts its considerable influence to make the remaining policies fail, as of course, the "alt-right" will eventually too.

In general, public policy is formulated in universities by people who are exclusively of the liberal, Democratic or progressive persuasion. It is broadly accurate to speak of this caste - H.G. Wells called them "Eloi" - as the ruling class. And they certainly do shop at Whole Foods, drive Priuses, do yoga, go jogging, etc, etc. They can be white, black, Asian, Indian, and blah blah blah. It doesn't matter. What matters is the synopsis.

Every time I watch a leftist street march in the US I laugh at the huge numbers of black people (and the "ally" white people, but don't get me started...). Progressive philanthropists say they are Great Friends of the Negro, treating him as "a man, and a brother." In reality, progressives don't like actual black people any more than they like democracy. They have no love at all for the poor. What they love is to pick them up, turn them into feral barbarians, encourage them to devastate civilised society, and provide millions of jobs for fellow ruling class members caring for the animalistic, burned-out shell of what was formerly one of North America's great cultures - the African-American culture. Compare the cultural contributions of black people before and after the "civil-rights movement" and you'll see the difference.

"Now you're just being racist!" Calm down, wildman. It's not Jews, Niggers, or Fags I despise. It's philanthropists and liberal missionaries who, in the old Russian saying, "pretend to be the doctors of society, but are really the disease." Have fun curing juvenile delinquency in the slums with that planned housing project of yours, Sister Wolf.

Professor Venkatesh's little book was intriguing in many ways, but perhaps the most interesting is that none of the other people working at the University of Chicago's "sociology" department had ever come in contact with the inhabitants of the Robert Taylor Homes, nor did they have any idea what their lives were like. This is because the civil-rights movement, whose real goal was simply to put progressive party members into power, has no more use for its black playthings - except to pay them to vote every few years or march in BLM and Occupy protests.

If I had one message for the protesters at Charlottesville, it would be that leftist tactics do not work in general for the right.

There is no symmetry at all. The actual right (and conservatives, too) shouldn't believe in fair play, democracy and winning by convincing their opponents through argument because progressives have never believed in any of these things. Progressives hate democracy like the devil. That's why they're always accusing their enemies, the "populists," of "politicising public policy." Translation: it allows democracy to interfere with the progressive party line. I'm aware politics is what democracy says on the box, but hey, sometimes marketing is full of bullshit. Is this new information to you?

Progressives throughout the last two centuries always bowled the hardest ball they could get away with. They believed in winning by any means necessary. And in the cases where their victories have been absolute, the result has been nothing but destruction, disaster and death for most of the people who were tricked into supporting them.

Tocqueville had a useful way of explaining it: the right wins when it strikes hard, fast and decisively. Otherwise, it is playing Calvinball with Calvin. The left wins slowly; the right wins in one blow. For the same reason the right is basically, well, right, it will never be as good at lying, cheating and general hypocrisy as the left. So it shouldn't try, which means it shouldn't use leftist tactics. Terrorism, for example, works amazingly for the left and almost never for the right because terrorism is the destruction of order, not the maintenance of it.

The only solution involves some kind of political discontinuity. For example, in an America in which the right had actually defeated the left, the number of streets named after Martin Luther King would be equal to the number of Goering Avenues. I'm not sure my computer has enough memory to express the number of years this would take the "alt-right" to achieve.

The whole alt-right thing proves the pathetic limpness of conservatism when it sets a laughably low bar by historical standards and then fails to meet it. Conservatism is a disaster. What the actual right needs is full-on Bourbon reaction - offence, not defence. The Pentagon needs to grow a pair. Whatever is eventually done, it needs to eradicate progressivism, not just ameliorate it or try to slow it down. You don't argue with cancer. You cut it out.

None of this will happen until the American right wing quits its silly insistence on clinging to the sham of democracy, which is the creed of its enemy. It starts with a traditionalist voter base and tries to devise a programme that is maximally effective given that it needs voters to support it. Meanwhile, the left controls the press and the educational system and is slowly "educating" the backwoods Americans out of their last drops of sanity. (The sheer amount of "anti-racists" in Charlottesville is a good example of how far the line has been pushed in our lifetimes alone.)

Real success against the left can only be achieved by starting with a programme which, if enacted, would actually work. It will be impossibly radical and unpopular - in short, unworkable from a democratic standpoint. To win, either you have to change this, or you have to think outside the democratic box.

And if you don't suspect the danger is real, perhaps the New York Times will enlighten you. Suffice it to say that the behaviour of the alt-right is pretty much a case study in what not to do. The left cannot be appeased. It can only be smashed.

Progressivism is a ruthless, power-hungry death cult, just like Nazism. Someday the two will be remembered in the same breath.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

How to prove a conspiracy theory

Here are the ground rules for claiming proof of extraordinary phenomena in 2017.

1. Any video must be shot using a tripod or with the camera supported on some fixed object, like a big rock. If you make me watch another stupid video of some spectre and the camera is shaking all over the place, you are, in my eyes, subhuman. Go get a tripod or you'll have a video of the inside of your butt.

2. Videos must be in focus at all times. It's 2017, if they actually built lenses in the Sahara, they would have autofocus too. Blurry video = slap in the face.

3. Your video cannot show something that "could either be the Loch Ness Monster or a log." That just means you videotaped a log, and now you want to be famous for your log video. That makes you an asshole. Logs aren't interesting. They are super common, just lying around all day like a bunch of logs. If you make me watch an log video under false pretences, I will go Clockwork Orange on your ass. In the name of science.

4. Same with photos, I'm not even kidding you. I see a blurry photo of a hubcap you claim is a UFO, and my fist will rocket across the surface of the earth of its own accord, dragging my limp and helpless body behind it, until it smashes into your face.

5. Photos must be 8 megapixels or above, and if you claim more than one photo, one of them had better be in TIFF or raw format, with the exif data intact. An alien craft travels thousands of light years to get to earth, it's going to stick around for the three seconds necessary to switch to raw. You show me a compressed JPG with visible artefacts, I throw you into a pit of logs where you will be bored to death. See 3.

6. If you claim a photo of an alien spacecraft, and it has any writing from a science fiction movie on it, I am going to force you at sabrepoint to return to high school where you will attend gym class seven times a day, alternating between bullrush and paintball - without a mask. Wookie? Not on my watch.

7. Photos must be posted to Flickr and videos to YouTube, with the high-res uncompressed originals available as torrents on the Pirate Bay. If you link to a Tumblr site or, God help you, 9Gag, I'm going to glass you.

No-confidence in South Africa?

Now it’s a streak. Seven times in seven years members of South Africa’s parliament have tried and failed to remove President Jacob Zuma by a vote of no confidence. On August 8, they failed again and he remains in power to continue poorly managing the struggling state.

The general explanation for South Africa’s woes is to fault the leadership, but also the inability of its citizens to pull themselves out of a situation created, or at least exacerbated, by generations under apartheid. This is like saying if it looks, walks and talks like a duck, it's actually an armadillo.

Yet if I claim it's a duck, the burden of proof is on me for proving it is not an armadillo. Happy to do so. South Africa has symptoms similar to those of Haiti, Jamaica and Nigeria which are also struggling to emerge from generations under apartheid. Oh, wait, no they're not... Maybe the problem is something else? Let’s find out.

In 1994, the Republic of South Africa held an election. It was the last internal election of the three-centuries-old white tribe of the Cape, who considered a political separation from the Xhosa and Zulu people natural and obvious, just as the political separation between Italy and France was natural and obvious.

The Afrikaners felt the fundamental theory of apartheid was that South Africa was several nations in one territory, a perfectly reasonable design for government. The assumption mirrors the Ottoman millet system, which made the Middle East functionally multicultural – compared with its modern rabid, murderous, irredentist nationalism (which progressives have done so much to sustain).

Anyway, in 1994, about two-thirds of white South Africans voted to dissolve the white polity, surrender their old republic, its constitution and flag and succumb to State Department pressure which had used every instrument short of invasion to depose the Nationalists and install the ANC. The votes were binding and final and old South Africa, like Rhodesia, is gone. However, those who voted, yes or no, are now voting with their feet.

There were two schools of thought on the election. The first predicted a transformation of the strife-ridden tip of Africa into a Rainbow Nation in which the unity of humanity would be displayed. Others thought it was a terrible idea to turn the last developed country in Africa over to a mafia of Communist mass murderers, predicting South Africa would soon mimic Haiti, Jamaica, Nigeria or Zimbabwe. Obviously, there was not much middle ground.

In general, the South African whites of British descent or affinity (early 20th-century South African writings often mentioned a conflict of races, but they meant the English and Boer) voted yes in 1994, because they subscribed to the first school. This, of course, is the party line of the international intellectual elite known as American progressives.

On the other side, the Afrikaners were divided. Some, called verligte or "enlightened," followed the internationalist party line and voted yes. The others, called verkrampte (I'm not sure about the precise translation, but it looks onomatopoeic) subscribed to the second school and voted no.

They were correct. But imagine how hard it would have been to correctly predict the result of a glorious victory of liberation in South Africa, and endorse the verkramptes and their bitter, bigoted cynical racism. The verkramptes made some people in the Donald Trump fan base look inclusive. It’s always tough being wrong, but it’s really tough having to admit others are right.

Few people, however, would say the Nationalist era was a period of ideal government. If the Nationalists had operated a good government, South Africa would still be a First World country today. It had nuclear weapons and nuclear power, as well as healthy arms and energy industries. No country on earth, not even the US, had the power to coerce the RSA back then.

But, like most bad governments it was weak and therefore brutal. Comparing Singapore to the old Broederbond Boerocracy, the difference between effective and ineffective authoritarian states becomes clear. A strong government executes firmly and decisively. A weak government is fickle and inconsistent, and needs to be much more vicious to achieve any level of security.

Looking back, the fate of the RSA was sealed after it flinched at the outcome of the Rivonia trial and refused to hang Nelson Mandela for crimes which everyone now agrees he committed. This one death probably would have prevented many others, on both sides of apartheid’s fence.

Are South Africa’s problems due to the inability of Africans to self-govern, or of “inequality” and universal human greed? Ask the same question for Haiti, Jamaica or Nigeria. Depending on what you answer, ask again why aren’t Finland, China, Croatia, Malaysia and New Zealand also afflicted? Maybe the propensity for greed isn’t quite that universal after all.

History shows that majority-rule democracy is probably not the best political design for a population of predominantly African descent. I’d also say majority-rule democracy is probably not the best political design for a population of predominantly European or Semitic descent, either. Does this make me more or less of a racist? Clearly, I should apply to the Waffen-SS. The Indian Raj was much more similar to Moghul India than the postcolonial democratic welfare state. It also worked a lot better – surprise!

And besides, "inequality" is so easy to deconstruct: What is the precise mechanism by which the presence of wealth in one's geographic proximity causes suffering and poverty? "Inequality" is simply code for support of a political movement that survives by extorting rich South Africans and using their money to buy votes from the poor. Mr Zuma talks about it as a threat of violence: the poor are envious, he says, and if they get more envious we may not be able to control them. Pay us off, we'll pay them off, and everything will be fine. How progressive indeed.

Most people think South Africa’s problems are a result of apartheid. No shame in that. They barely have time to learn the official excuses, let alone dig around for the actual story. But Occam has a simpler explanation: the trouble is actually the result of decolonialisation, which is the process by which the British, French and Belgian empires were confiscated by the US after WWII and transferred from colonial administration to a post-colonial aidocracy.

But I won’t hold my breath for aidocrats to take responsibility for the vast increases in suffering across South Africa and the rest of the continent. That wouldn’t be very progressive at all. Mr Zuma has friends in high places, so to speak.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Back to square one with the Islamic State

The Old City in Mosul, Iraq has seen its fair share of destruction over the centuries. Right now the city is recovering from months of protected house-to-house fighting between Iraq Security Forces and the Islamic State (IS).

The militants are also being squeezed across the border. Syrian government troops and allied forces have taken the town of al-Sukhna, the last major Islamic State-held town in Homs province. Under cover of US airpower, Kurdish forces – much to the chagrin of Turkey – are methodically clearing the outlying villages near Raqqa in eastern Syria in preparation for a main assault on the IS capital.

It’s hard to tell if IS lost the battle in Mosul. Even if it did, it wouldn’t be the first time the jihadists melted into air. Guerrilla groups tend to do that. The Islamic State is neither a terrorist group nor a conventional military force. It acted like a militancy and often used terrorism, but it was hard to classify. As it washes away now, it jumps back into a frustrating grey zone of jurisdiction.

Terrorism – the random killing of defenceless civilians – is the normal mode of warfare in our charming post-WWII world. In other words, it is the most common way to use force to achieve political objectives. Terrorism, left or right, is a legitimate military tactic and it needs to be judged by the laws of war, not the laws of peace. Generally, however, it is treated as a law enforcement or intelligence problem because international law still hasn’t figured out what to do.

It’s great that IS is being crushed in the Levant, but at least while it holds Raqqa and Mosul it is limited by time and space – and susceptible to JDAMs and indirect fire. Once the group is kicked out, like a hammer blow to a puddle, it simply flows towards other places rather than disappearing. Afghanistan, for instance. So the real trick is to find a way to dry up the water.

IS fighters will once again choose to disguise themselves as and mingle with civilians – violating the laws of war and the Geneva Convention. So how should they be dealt with upon capture? That’s a tough question for Washington, which will continue to carry the heavy counter-terrorism load for the international community as the militants return to their underground terror roots.

An IS fighter can be put on criminal trial in the US, but there may only be an intelligence (CIA) level of proof, not proof beyond a reasonable doubt (district attorney). He is not a prisoner of war, so what is he? The US uses the term "unlawful enemy combatant" which for all intents and purposes they invented without any legal foundation. Despite a decade and a half of constant low-level warfare, none of this is much clearer.

Laws against international terrorists were always vague, but it didn't matter because they didn’t attack the US before 1993. Here, the planning and execution was done within the US so the law prosecuted the terrorists criminally in New York. The real problem never ripened until 9/11. Before that, there was no situation (that was made public) where an attack was ordered and organised overseas and then only the grunts sent to the US to carry it out.

Taking the fight to the terrorists isn’t straightforward. If the CIA captures a person overseas, does it really make sense the person should have the full spectrum of US constitutional rights? Does it really make sense that a prisoner of the CIA in Afghanistan should magically have more rights than a prisoner of the Afghan government in Afghanistan?

Think about this really hard for a moment. If the CIA detains, say, 12 IS members in a terror cell in Saudi Arabia, what should it do? Give them to the Saudis to disappear? Put them on trial in the US without witnesses, without a reliable chain of custody of evidence and without national security rules preventing the disclosure of what scant evidence there is? Should the CIA put them in a hotel? What should happen? The terrorist might have crucial information and the CIA needs that. Please tell the CIA how it should get that information without stepping on legal toes.

The CIA is not the United States’ foreign police force. What the CIA does is kidnapping. It doesn't have the legal authority to take people into custody. Not to get into a legal argument over the Geneva Conventions, but those don't fix the problem. Protocols 1, 2 and 3 were never adopted by the US, and neither IS nor al qaeda prisoners are prisoners of war. They may be prisoners taken in a war, but that's not the same thing.

The irony is that if Islamic State actually created a state these issues would disappear because IS fighters would then be considered as acting on behalf of a hostile state and entitled to POW status. Smashing IS will feel good for the US, but it doesn’t dissuade its fighters from returning to transnational terrorism. We’re about to go back to square one.

There are two possible responses to terrorism: the natural and the unnatural. The natural response is to take revenge on the terrorist and everyone even remotely resembling him. The unnatural response is to address the grievances of the attackers. Hopefully, Baghdad has been thinking about conciliation, rather than mass execution (although this is reportedly already happening). The alternative for the West is to kill and capture these people forever.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Commonwealth Bank and holding power to account

Talking to one of my far more experienced colleagues, his advice about Australia’s Commonwealth Bank money laundering scandal is to wait for the investigation (which is in process) both internally and potentially by the regulators before asking for scalps from the C-suite. It’s hard to believe their excuse of coding errors. Someone must have noticed. But the relative lack of media coverage in Australia is intriguing for other reasons.

Over in New Zealand, people I talk to are discussing the imminence of a recession. Why? Because Australian banks are running out of money. So for something like this to happen at one of the larger banks, and for the reaction to be relatively muted, bolsters my initial suspicion that journos are trying to maintain fiscal stability first, and encourage prosecution second.

But as a wise man once said, "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." Keep in mind the average age of journalists in NZ and AUS can’t be much higher than 26-27. Simply put, most journos may be avoiding this topic because they have no idea what’s going on. This is why when Trump and his wife travel overseas, a group of stories emerge about his dinner menu or her “beautiful clothing.” A25-year-old has no idea how to parse the complex geopolitical problems, so they collapse back to what they do know, which is nothing.

One thing that does bother me is how journalists pat themselves on the back about “speaking truth to power” but don’t realise that in the modern world, it’s not politicians who have power, it’s the civil service tied with the corporate world. I don’t mean a “who has the money” kind of power, but the ability-to-change-the-world kind of power. Journos are, of course, susceptible to influence from corporates due to advertising support. But the real problem is journos actually don’t comprehend that formal power has shifted.

I think if you claim to be “speaking truth to power” then the default assumption is that power manifests in a specific way, which makes anyone who says that phrase an instrument of that power. Because executives aren’t held to the same scrutiny as politicians, even though they have more power, implies journalists do not apprehend where the new power is. Hence, traditional or legacy media is failing as an institution because it is no longer a useful tool. So what has taken media’s place? Social networks (notice how these magically became social “media” within the last five years).

Social networks are emergent properties of online corporates, in the same way broadcast media was an emergent property of democratic government. As with any power shift, the old controllers of the institutions and their instruments are sidelined, but the concept of the institution remains. The dynamic is a flowing of power, which you can always tell has occurred when the names of an institution have changed.

Why am I bringing this up? Because the most interesting question to ask is whether social networks would have brought this Commonwealth Bank fiasco to your attention if traditional media hadn’t.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Anonymity is the only anti-system choice short of revolution

Finding a solution to cyber-security isn’t proving easy, but what if people are thinking about the problem backwards?

First, it’s fairly obvious cyber-security would be less of an issue if companies didn’t collect and store every piece of the data they could get their hands on. Especially when few companies seem to know what to do with the data anyway and just hope to find a way to use it in the future. If the cyber-security question is really about safety – if people were truly concerned about fixing the problem – surely the answer is to increase the amount of anonymity online, not reduce it? After all, if none of my data can be tied to me, why would I fear a breach?
What happens to the girls outside the frame?
Do they, just, disappear?

We all yelled at the NSA for “collecting it all” but everyone seems perfectly happy handing the keys to their personal kingdom over to corporations.

I suspect it is vitally important for Facebook to capture all the data because it needs to map a single identity to a single person for the purposes of advertising. It can't achieve this with five separate identities of you. They really, truly not only don't care about privacy, Facebook wants to own privacy so they can sell it back to you. Because if it destroys privacy then it has nothing to trade.

It's a surveillance economy. Society has outsourced the panopticon to private companies. It was bad enough when the government controlled it, but at least there are certain rights against the government. We haven't quite figured out how to apply this to corporations.

What's frustrating is how all the arguments around anonymity online are focused on either bullying, trolling or abuse on the one hand, and some sophomoric notion of "responsibility" for people's words on the other. You can see this in the "speech is violence" rhetoric which, for obvious reasons, is outlined by a certain kind of activist.

Please read this carefully: The reason I am anonymous online is to force you, the reader, to be responsible for what you read and how you read it. The moment someone introduces theirs or someone else's identity into a discussion, they are hoping their statements will carry more weight or more credibility than the content those statements deserves. They are looking to substitute anecdote for data or personal preference for fact. It's why bylines on journalism are terrible (although The Economist's lack falls tends to be glorified opinion, so there must be a balance).

What's amazing is how much people want this identifying information. They want to know who or what you are so they can compartmentalise you and then only read what you write in the context of that knowledge. They want to judge what you say based on who you are. And when you don't give it to them, they actually fabricate it for you.

There is absolutely no benefit, none, to using your real-world identity online. Anything you think you can get by using your real identity, you can just as easily get using a different identity. Hell, there are times in real life when I don't use my real name. The risks in doing so online are legion, so why do it?

The greatest critique of social media, shopping and constant rebranding is that the people who run these things, do not participate in it. The owners of Google and Twitter do not blog and Tweet incessantly. Zuckerberg does not have a personal Facebook page where he takes pics of himself at parties. I don’t know what Larry Page and Sergey Brin are watching, or when they get out of bed. That’s the stuff we post on their websites so they can exploit it for money.

I think this picture is trying to tell me...something
The man who runs Forever 21, Do Won (Don) Chang, does not obsess over creating his personal fashion brand. He doesn't care about having the latest clothes or modelling trends. His family is by all accounts traditional and typically Korean.

When he emigrated to the US, Chang worked in a number of jobs, even as a janitor. On his Facebook page, he identifies as a devoted Christian and scripture quotes are printed on the bottom of his shopping bags. Does a guy who got his start working three jobs and scrubbing toilets strike you as someone who'd encourage his children to chase fashion trends and buy new clothes all the time?

None of Chang’s work ethic nor his sacrifice is on display in his commercial creation. That outlook has enabled him to make the sacrifices, endure hardship, persevere and build something massively successful. Instead, his store promotes a lifestyle of perpetual youth and endless fun feeding a ravenous and paranoid consumer mindset that he himself doesn’t possess and wouldn’t instil in his children.

The point is the people who make these things don’t really use these things. Paris Hilton doesn’t watch reality TV, but she wants you to watch her reality TV show. Larry Page and Sergey Brin don’t read or click Adsense, and Zuckerberg – who reads ancient Greek and Latin – doesn’t spend his time telling Facebook “what’s on his mind today.” And Chang doesn’t want his daughters turning over their wardrobe every two weeks shopping at Forever 21.

They make things they'd never use in the way they want you to use them. This is the hypocrisy at the heart of consumerism, and it has been this way since the beginning, but it has never been so nakedly obvious. Consumerism is a carny hustle. A game. Ask yourself why the people who run the game generally don’t play the game. Then ask who really is winning the game.

And, bloody hell, use a pseudonym on Facebook. Not your real world identity. I fail to see how that is a problem for anyone but Facebook.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan’s latest film Dunkirk is a Rorschach test.

For some viewers, the movie was grey, boring, deafeningly loud while the dialogue was muted, sparse and hard to follow. For others, the film was gritty, realistic, claustrophobic and showed war in its properly confusing context. Others saw Dunkirk as a beautiful dream strung together from half-remembered tales told to schoolboys rather than a depiction of a realistic situation, let alone an account of an actual historical event.

Is Dunkirk about soldiers, or the civilians who aided in their rescue, or is about something larger? No character in the film is defined beyond basic traits - first names and rank. We know nothing about them. But we still care because the film inspires empathy. What kind of empathy exactly? And for whom are we supposed to feel it?

Everyone will answer this in different ways. But they can only see what they want to see. And then there’s this guy:

“...But Dunkirk’s presentism means that it’s inadvertently a film about the present. It’s a Brexit movie: Nolan was adamant about casting actors exclusively from the British Isles; contemporary English icon Harry Styles offers a moment of light xenophobia when he argues that a Frenchman should be the first to die; the first spoken line of the film is “I’m English!” Curiously, Nolan has been applauded by critics for subtracting Nazi identity throughout—no German soldiers or German insignia are depicted—as if this abstracted enemy refashions history into a story of general human survival. But a faceless enemy means that anyone’s face can be inserted, a useful tactic in the buildup to war. Meanwhile, the good soldiers all speak the same language: “All we did,” says Styles, “is survive.”

This sort of paragraph can only be written by an aristocrat. Jonathon Sturgeon would probably recoil from being called an aristocrat, but his review oozes the thoughts of a member of the ruling elite who doesn't quite know he just watched one of his fellow aristocrats depict how the peasants live. Nolan has been smuggling these messages into his films for decades. His movies are a series of attempts to metaphorically explain to elites what it feels like to be constantly assaulted and called backwards, evil and bigoted for respecting traditions and rituals.

The broken memories in Memento (2000) are a motif for the chaos of collective Western memory under attack by the resentful and envious revolutionary activists who weaselled their way up society to pull on the levers of power. The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008) is a personification - almost an anthropomorphisation - of chaos introduced into a harmonised and ordered Western system by the same spiteful people. Elsewhere in Nolan's catalogue, the character Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (2012) is a mimicry of a specific moment in European history when a member of the socialist elite stirred up the people and let them loose on Russia to destroy a tired and stumbling monarchical regime which had forgotten how to rule. Bane's message of freedom and equality to the prisoners was a lie. He wanted only for them to enact their murderous thoughts in the required direction.

Batman is the representation of the individual who, apprehending the chaos, must rise above mere good and evil to embody both and reintroduce order. He knows the harmonised structure of society is more important than the consequences of risking one's life to defend it. Yet the order Batman seeks is elusive in Gotham because order has not returned in the real world. The movies end without reconciliation because there is no reconciliation out here, where Nolan lives. Chaos is everywhere, tearing down walls and ripping people and institutions apart. The forces represented by Bane encourage new twisted revolutions just as the previous cycles slow down, for revolution's sake. The Joker is unleashed, again, searching out diminishing and vestigial orders to poison. And so more traditions are lost down the memory hole every day.

Finally, there is that strange example of the gravity planet in Interstellar (2014), where everything temporarily slows down. It beautifully depicts the psychology of being caught up, concentrating intensely, pushing one's finger into a hole in the bulging dyke of society, trying to hold back the chaos one argument and "good fight" at a time. But the moment the gap is plastered, you lift your head out from that gravity back into the real world, only to find those who drive this relentless resentful chaos have moved on, ten or a thousand times faster. The exhaustion of it all...

Sturgeon and his fellow elites won power by weaponising their resentment and spite. They know they are weak in reality, so all they have is words. Hollywood movies are generally written for these people, but not Nolan's. Sturgeon castigates Dunkirk, but only with vague political nomenclature and artistic fudging. Dunkirk's meaning is over his head, so he defaults to assuming vulgar, low-brow and underclass - perhaps even seditious - interpretations. Some types of semiotics are unavailable to the elite. Not because they don't know them. Quite simply, they refuse to believe their lying eyes.

Consider the bullets crashing through the hull of a beached fishing boat. They were shots fired for effect, not malice. But to the trapped soldiers, the sledgehammer sound animalised their fear, turning them against each other. Their panic stole away all but two choices: band together or find a safety valve to release the pressure. And then a foreigner was bullied into leaving the boat so the rest could survive. You bet your ass this was a metaphor. Was it horrible? Racist? Bigoted? Sure. All of the above.

But who cares? It didn't matter to those trapped boys who could never plug the bullet holes and keep afloat. Their false safety as rounds slammed into their seclusion is precisely how the concerned and worried traditionalist sections of society feel to the daily practice shots by the progressive elites. Nolan's audience knows what it feels like inside that boat. Closed in from all sides, they turn to deeper human nature and traditions. Few can tell the difference between being targeted and being part of target practice.

On Dunkirk beach, the soldiers form queues. They are surrounded, waiting for their turn to leave on boats they were promised will come. Outside the theatre, everyone knows what these "boats" are. They are the retirement plans, pensions, grandchildren, directorships, houses, travel plans, medical care, etc. The enemy is destroying those boats systematically out of spite because they cannot achieve them on their own strength, and so no one should have them. Everyone can feel this attack. Yet still, the tired people stand in columns on the beach and in our streets, hoping those promises will arrive.

Sturgeon sees none of this. He spots the anarchy and fear in the movie but projects his own movement as standing on the beaches fighting for good while the nasty Tories threaten his heavenly utopian project. Sturgeon's elitist narrative is a mishmash of cognitive dissonance in which his movement is the clear overdog but continues to think of itself as the underdog, taunting Brexit voters, Tories and anyone who respects traditions as "boring," "craven" and stupid.

Nolan isn't stupid. He put Sturgeon's elites in the film too. They are the dive-bombers and U-boats, screeching down from unearned perches in the clouds and slipping silently through dark waves. They refuse to meet their foe in fair battle preferring to snipe, snipe, snipe at unarmed medical shipping or thin beached vessels covering cowering soldiers. It's the same outside the theatre too. Sturgeon's comrades hide in gated communities while they chip away at the traditionalists, who are now forced to live at the margins of the system their fathers created.

But even as defeat nears, the soldiers still form those pathetic queues, waiting, breathing quickly, not knowing why or for what reason they continue to follow their traditions. The dive-bombers strafe the wounded and healthy alike, slowly, methodically. And over those dunes, the enemy gathers on hills and plains, stretching now to the ends of the earth, having conquered every facet of a system built by generations of those broken soldiers. The game is lost for them. How can a dive-bomber or a torpedo be fought with a .303 rifle? How can social resentment and insanity be turned back by facts, reason or clear argument?

In similar shell-shocked desperation, traditionalists helplessly watch the progressive movement destroy the society their grandfathers died to protect on Dunkirk. This realisation is made more difficult knowing their ancestors were duped. The real enemy was not "over there" at all, but quietly capturing the fabric of their society behind their backs. Sturgeon's comrades erase every tradition until even the memory of the memory of Dunkirk fades. They applaud the retreat of Western civilisation with cackling glee as they pour gasoline on the fires scorching millennia-old institutions.

What remains is a small, wet, grey beach next to oblivion. We huddle there, wondering what to do next, while the enemy marshals to finish the push.

Those are not just Brexit or Trump voters on that beach. They represent a mosaic of a broken civilisation forced out of its resplendent social system. This civilisation's defenders are few, corralled into messy corners across the Western world and constantly hounded by a ruthless progressive elite salivating over the thought of driving the traditionalists into the sea.

Nolan's films document this transition of power in the West from one form of Christianity to the next - from traditionalists to the progressive communists. He is a pirate director, operating in plain sight from inside the new empire. Did you have this thought? If not, it's not your fault, some people are trained not to have it while others were trained to have it immediately.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Time's up - North Korea's ICBM and the US military might

Perhaps poetically, North Korea test-fired a missile at midnight on July 28, the second intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test by the regime in less than a month.

The projectile launched the from Mupyong-ni arms plant in the country's north. A US navy official said it flew "in excess of 40 minutes" and travelled about 1,000 kilometres laterally before splashing down into the Sea of Japan, about 163 kilometres from Hokkaido, Japan's second-largest island.

South Korean President Moon Jae In and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe convened emergency security meetings shortly after the launch and Japan's Cabinet announced additional sanctions on the hermit kingdom.

Back on the peninsula, Mr Moon says more Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) batteries would be deployed in South Korea. Two THAAD launchers are presently in operation, while four others are stored at a nearby US military base. The South Korean president also ordered consultations with Washington on ways to bolster deterrence against North Korea, including by conducting a combined ballistic missile exercise and by calling a UN Security Council meeting to discuss new sanctions. An emergency meeting will be held this week.

China has also asked South Korea and the US to respect its concerns and stop their development of the THAAD system. China is worried about the anti-ballistic missile shield not due to friendship with Pyongyang, but because the radar fans sweep in most of Manchuria. Beijing can live with periodic ELINT monitoring from US aircraft and surface vessels transiting international corridors, but a US-controlled ABM system on its northern doorstep? That's a bridge too far.

I

So where does this new test leave the international community? What sort of decisions will it need to make in the near future? And, most importantly, why will it make those decisions?

Intelligence agencies deliver assessments when they don't know something for sure. That's why they're called assessments. US agencies recently assessed that the North Koreans will have a nuclear-capable ICBM as early as next year. What they can't know is whether this is too soon or too late. Simply put, there is a lot of grey space where information should be. But that's the nature of intelligence. If the North Koreans are further along than intelligence suggests, then the threat is already here and action is required immediately. Then again, if action is taken and the programme is discovered to be behind assessment schedule, then the US will only appear as aggressors and warmongers.

Intelligence is not about giving leaders information to remove doubt. It is about supplying them with the most accurate data possible so that they can make the best decision, even in the teeth of doubt.

But it's not like we don't know something about North Korea. It is perhaps the most-watched place on earth and the most militarised - on both sides of the 38th parallel. North Korea is still technically at war with the South and is ruled by the third generation of a single family. However, it is believed the leader is not alone in defending his nation-state. Kim Jong Un is surrounded by a tenuous group of elites bound together in mutual concern for the status quo. Should that status quo change, those bonds may snap. But so far - at least for 70 years - they have stayed strong.

We can also assume the leaders are rational. Mr Kim's reasons for pursuing a nuclear weapon are clear. He watched the examples of Libya and Iraq (and perhaps Ukraine) as those countries gave up their weapons of mass destruction on good faith that they were playing by the rules. But the US still bombed and invaded Libya and Iraq, while Ukraine is no longer a coherant state due to Russian-influenced separatism in that country's east. Pyongyang knows that playing by the international community's rules isn't a safe bet. That's because, for Washington, it's not about the nukes, it's about The Project.

II

The Project is why Pyongyang should be a bellwether for the rest of the planet.

Washington's approach so far has been to gradually ratchet up the pressure on the East Asian regime by imposing ever-tighter sanctions and banking freezes. For many years, the US was the provider of 50% of the North's food aid, only to remove that aid within the last decade. The US also compels the surrounding countries to sanction and isolate the North. Even China has bent to Washington's demands to some extent, although, as with this entire scenario, it's difficult to tell whether Beijing is blocking supplies to and from North Korea or whether it uses Pyongyang as a diplomatic playing chip.

Whenever the Kim question comes up in the United Nations, Washington invariably gets its way because everyone except the belligerent Russian knows how the game is played. This shouldn't be surprising for anyone. The building astride Turtle Bay, New York is a Washingtonian tool for the cohesion of the international community - The Project.

This community of nations follows the US-designed version of democracy known as liberal progressive parliamentarianism. To this community and its ultimate US leader, any other form of democracy is bad, bad, bad. The wars of the last century weren't about morals or ethics, they were about a specific decision. Since democracy was agreed upon across all Western nation-states to be the default mode of governing in the Industrial Age, only one question remained: which version should be preeminent? It took from 1914-1989 to figure this question out.

It turns out, whichever nation owns the North American landmass will control the world's oceans, and thereby the world. You can't have international commerce without container ships steaming across oceans, and you can't have ships steaming if the seas aren't patrolled and guarded. That used to be the role of the British Navy, but today the US Navy guarantees safe sea passage. This is a mark of incredible imperial power. How did this happen?

III

During the Age of Revolution, the American version of democracy succeeded over the British, German, French and Russian (Soviet) versions. All of those versions were drawn from the Christian faith of respecting the value of the lowest peasant and rejecting the value of the aristocracy.

Democracy for the last 200 years has had next to nothing to do with Ancient Greece. It is a Christian idea of power relations through and through. For the democratist elite, emancipation from oppression was less important than the ability to control people under a new type of regime. All they needed to do was use the language of emancipation and stir up the populations. Democracy doesn't actually give people any power, that's the lie. It's only a useful tool for competing aristocracies to gain power over the other rival aristocracy.

The problem is, it has proven tough to transition between aristocratic rulers while the peasants still believe they have power. Various methods to dilute democracy and return to proper order-based aristocracy have been attempted - such as limiting the extent of civilian interaction with rule-making to a single vote every few years (elections) - but unfortunately for the victorious new elites, the people aren't shaking that "in control" feeling. The new progressive aristocracy is working on it (as am I, watch this space).

This transition would have been a lot easier if the human population was still hovering around 1-2 billion people. But when the Industrial Age took hold, some annoying inventions emerged (from the perspective of the elites) such as penicillin and fertiliser. These had the effect of ballooning human populations and changed the central governance question from: "how can the elite secure and maintain its power?" to "what should we do with all these people?"

Carrying on the Democratic lie was the only answer once the various post-Christian ideologies of democracy (Soviet Communism, American Communism and German and Italian Fascism) kept animating the crowds. The elite in all these systems was able to get ahead of these movements fairly quickly and try to direct the enormous flow of populism, but they could never cycle it back the chaos to a transition point and re-establish order under a new aristocracy. Simply put, the humans kept breeding.

This is important for understanding what is coming next for North Korea.

IV

To the democratist elite in the West gathering up and directing the populist flow, the most important goal was to first neutralise the competing versions to create a single, global point of order.

American Communism (known as "state transcendentalism" or "progressivism") is inarguably the most successful modern branch of the mainline Protestant tradition. It happens to be pretty much the most powerful religion on earth today and for the last century, although it has mutated away most of its theism.

It was victorious in 1945 against the Fascist version of democracy. And in 1989 it defeated the Soviet Communist model of democracy. The rest of Europe then bent to Washington's military and diplomatic/educational might and harmonised themselves with Washington. The entire planet then aligned as well. People tend to recognise power when they see it: if you don't have the guns, you don't get to write the rules.

International commerce and business are based on a default assumption of the American model. International diplomacy operates on a default assumption of the American ideal. Global psychology-capture (broadcast and mainstream media) delivers the default assumption of democratist ideals and social goodness directly into each person's brain when their eyes and ears come in contact with a television or newspaper. This is all true regardless of culture, geography or language.

The second most important goal for democratist elites is to utilise their substantial tools to ensure that every country on the planet remains a country (the nation-state concept is still preferred, for now) and organise governance on the US-led conception of order. This means no monarchies, no theocracies, no patriarchies, no matriarchies and certainly no anarchies. The world, as Woodrow Wilson used to say, should be "made safe for democracy." In fact, this present structure is called "Wilsonian," after Old Woody himself.

In Wilsonian international relations, countries are not free to govern themselves as they wish. The progressive elites might say they appreciate the nation-state, but they do not respect Westphalia. Under the Treaty of Westphalia, signed in 1648, European sovereign entities could fight about whatever they wanted, but religion was removed from the list. In other words, trying to alter the governance and religious choices of another nation-state was frowned upon. How other countries decided to live and rule were their prerogatives. This was the default assumption from 1648 until 1914.

V

But in 2017, almost the entire planet has been captured by the concepts of the nation-state and the governance of a US "democratic" order. Yet there are a few outliers remaining: Russia, ISIS, Somaliland and the fun-loving North Korea. Let's quickly look at all four:

  1. Modern Russia is nowhere near the Soviet disaster of 30 years ago. It is a pretend-democracy on the US model and has decided to alter the default assumptions of its new masters - slightly. In the Westphalian concept, a person is considered a citizen of the nation-state in which she is born. Simple stuff, really. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin believes a person is a citizen based on the country-of-origin of the language spoken in their mother's kitchen. A subtle, but important, shift. And since there are plenty of Russian-speakers in Eastern Ukraine, Mr Putin thinks it justified to claim those people for greater Russia. I'm sure he thinks Russian-speakers in Germany, Thailand and the US are legitimate Russians as well - including the land owned by those people. As you can imagine, this is unacceptable for Washington. So Moscow is demonised and US forces are drawn up against it.
  2. Another is the Islamic State. In the Middle East, a branch of Salafist Islam absorbed the progressive narrative of revolutionary activism and created terror groups to undermine the old Arab aristocratic order - similar to what happened in the Western world. However, rather than being a Christian movement, these Salafists - called jihadists - operate within Islamic history. Christians see the world as a progressive line from the primitive to the Kingdom of God. To them, the best is yet to come as they usher in the utopia here on earth. But to Salafi Islamists, their understanding of time is that utopia was already built and the Golden Age was with Mohammad in the sixth century. Every action taken today is meant to drag the corrupt modern world back to those holy days. They wish to create a new Caliphate ruled by a Salafi clerical aristocracy controlling a sovereign entity that recognises only two types of people: Muslims and soon-to-be-Muslims. This is unacceptable for Washington because a Caliphate discards the governance located on a nation-state model. The bombs are already falling
  3. Somaliland is interesting. You won’t find it on any official map because it isn't recognised by the international community. It is an essentially invisible, illegally independent state occupying a contiguous landmass inside the legally independent state of Somalia in East Africa. It has its own leader, currency and justice system. It even has its own flag. But it cannot access the IMF, World Bank nor sit on the United Nations. While it is de-facto an independent country, it is not de-jure (legally) recognised internationally. It is independent in the sense that “in” means “not,” and “dependent” means “dependent.” Somaliland and the US are identically independent. Both are not controlled by a prevailing international community. However, Somaliland doesn't have a nuclear weapons programme, so the US can get away with ignoring it and ask the cartographers to avoid drawing it on their maps.
  4. Now we circle back around to North Korea. North Korea is not the inverse of revolution, it is the product of revolution – exported overland during the Age of Revolution from the West, through Moscow by the socialist activist and journalist John Reed. Korea was a successful and flourishing nation before the West’s ideas entered the peninsula. After a century of violence, largely through bizarre games that no one understands yet, we end up with an American puppet state in the South and a Communist prison state in the North. Revolution created North Korea, but the state has an obvious desire to evolve into something like the old Joseon Dynasty monarchy – the general process of recovering from revolution. 
If Americans actually cared about North Koreans, rather than using them as rhetorical pawns, or drooling about their chances of causing yet another revolution or civil war, Washington would see the easiest way to let North Korea heal is to acknowledge the Kim dynasty as what it is: a monarchy. But doing so would broadcast to the world a very dangerous signal. It would show to any country suffering from exported Western revolution that it is possible to recover and reform its traditions. It would show that there is an outside.

That concept of "outside" is important here. During the Cold War, Soviet comrades could at least look out from behind the Iron Curtain and see a different world. And a German hipster could avoid looking at the checkpoints in West Berlin precisely because they didn't want to be reminded of another world over the border. Within each of those democratist systems, the elites were trying to bring about a reality in which there is no outside, in which all countries defaulted to democracy. The question was: which version?

There might have been an outside back then, but today the entire world has been eaten by the single, universal ideal of post-Christianity called "progressivism." There is no outside. The planet is on its way to becoming one big steaming homogeneous mass of Same-Think. Sure, the internet cut into the power of the progressive's psychology-capture mechanism - the mainstream media - but the internet doesn't pose nearly as great a threat as a truly independent North Korean state in the heart of East Asia.

VI

If North Korea is allowed to build a nuclear arsenal and mount it on robust ICBM re-entry vehicles with a range ring overlapping the Western seaboard of the continental United States, then Washington might be dissuaded from exporting its revolution to the hermit kingdom.

That's the play. This is why it is so important for Pyongyang to achieve nuclear capabilities. It wants to be left alone. It wants to recover from revolutionary craziness based on ideas it never invented. It desires only to return to monarchy. And it wants to be able to achieve this on its own terms. It knows the threat of a deliverable nuclear weapon is the only way to get this done. If Somaliland had a nuclear weapons programme, this would be its rationale as well. These people just want to organise their own governance structures.

The question for Washington is: how many other traditional cultures are waiting for a chance to rise again? And just how strong is Washington's psychological capture of those populations? The answer to both of these is: who knows? But Washington won't wait to find out.

If the North Koreans can build a nuclear weapon, might Japan decide this whole experiment with American-style democracy isn't working out and rush to their own nuclear weapon? And what about China? It's never been entirely clear why they still turn up to meetings wearing business suits. That isn't a traditional Chinese sartorial dress code. So how long will it take for Beijing to realise the present controller of the international system is a paper tiger?

VII

All this means time is running out for the Americans to make a choice on North Korea - on every conceivable scale and metric.

Either they sound the war drums and convince the international community that North Korea is an existential threat and needs to be dealt with, or Washington risks its entire Project. The endgame is approaching on the Korean peninsula and although it might not look like it if you watch only the "politics" on the Beltway, the US is more than willing to create a new puppet state in its global progressive empire. After all, "democracies don't fight each other." No, they only wish to eat the world.

It seems two options remain: The international community can solve this problem by removing the Kims by force, or accept and support them in their stabilisation efforts towards a truly Korean regime.

Washington would have to change its definition of risk if it is to accept North Korea as a nuclear power. But this would come with unacceptable concessions for the US – namely, its troops would have to leave Pyongyang alone. And if that is what Washington wants, it would have done so already.

None of this would fighting talk be necessary if Washington just stopped exporting democratic revolution and accepted classical international law on the Westphalian model. But since no one but myself is proposing this, I can't help but conclude that America doesn't care about North Koreans at all. The world is divided between those who want to be left alone, and those who won't leave others alone.

So as North Korea grinds inexorably towards a nuclear-tipped ICBM, the US will build its case against the regime for war. And you can expect Pyongyang to be blamed for the whole thing.

Ahh, Democratic ethics...

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Is democracy receding?

A perfect storm is brewing for democracy: globalisation, immigration, populism, wealth inequality the 2008 economic recession, the Iraq War’s legacy and a rising China. Yet everyone seems comfortable with this transition.

People say "left" and "right" are defunct, to be replaced by the binary of nationalism and globalism. But this is simply the trick of the civil service to whom society has outgrown politics and requires something more mature. Yet headless civil service government has no institutional pressure for efficiency and its interests are not ours. Everyone seems comfortable with this, too.

Ultimately, words mean whatever we want them to. But if the phrase “representative democracy” is interpreted to mean a political system in which power is held by representatives of the people chosen in democratic elections, the US is a representative democracy in the same way the Roman Empire was a republic, the United Kingdom is a kingdom and the Chinese Communist Party is communist.

In this new format, democracy can never lose if it is defined as "democracy that works." So when it doesn't work, it isn't democracy. Democracy that does work always seems to have quite a large element of the rule of law making it look remarkably like an aristocracy. The trouble is that the democratic forms are still there. And everyone still believes in them. Niccolò Machiavelli said it best:

"He who desires or attempts to reform the government of a state, and wishes to have it accepted and capable of maintaining itself to the satisfaction of everybody, must at least retain the semblance of the old forms; so that it may seem to the people that there has been no change in the institutions, even though in fact they are entirely different from the old ones. For the great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities, and are often even more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are."

Consider what many people think of the words political, partisan, politician and so on. Politics is never healthy. Donald Trump has “politicised” the Justice Department, which is a brutal indictment. If people hated black people the way they hate politics, they might say Trump negroised the Justice Department. The phrase would carry the same payload of contempt.

Progressives worry Trump poses not just a threat to democracy, but some sort of regime change. I must say, it is quite ballsy of progressives, who believe in an ideology that destroyed all the old regimes in the world through more or less violent revolution, to suddenly declare regime change as fundamentally evil and impossible.

By 19th century standards, all Westerners today support one party: the party of the permanent civil service. If you count journalists as civil servants, regardless of the nominally private status of their employers (is there much difference between working for CNN, TVNZ or the BBC?), it’s obvious how pervasive and successful this party is. There are fewer major policy disagreements between left-wing and right-wing parties today than within any pre-1932 party. So something certainly has changed.

Nowadays, young ambitious people don’t choose government jobs. Maybe the foreign ministries still attract a few. But all the real action is in the NGO world (especially if you count journalism as operating in the NGO space, which I do).

Representative democracy has become a meaningless abstraction in the same general category as the Holy Roman Empire. It is quite sensible to believe it has entered the last stage before its disappearance. While it’s here, we’re used to it. Once it goes, everyone will wonder how it lasted so long. People are already asking that very question.

I’m starting to think the reason some societies are called “developed” is because representative democracy in those places is considered a sort of vestigial reptile brain in this new era of scientific government. The message is clear: developed societies should be ruled by civil servants who are not responsible in any way, shape, or form to the electorate. If their policies worked, that would be fine. But they don’t seem to…

What fresh hell awaits us? I can’t even imagine. I am not a fan of revolutions, so I hope this transition runs smoothly. But the state isn’t going anywhere because – to those who run it – it is worth far too much to give up, and as it is the concentrated instantiation of sovereignty in society, nobody can make it do anything. I just don’t think we should call this a “democracy” any longer.

The broken legacy of African post-colonialism

The 93-year-old Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is pleading with his country’s four million skilled workers living overseas to return home to help revive the country's floundering economy. I can almost hear Niall Ferguson laughing.

Of course, I'm not saying Rhodesia was some kind of lost utopia. It was a just a country. Its system of government was effectively a degraded, second-rate copy of Edwardian Britain, and the demographic behind the Rhodesian Front was the petty-bourgeois. Ian Smith was not an aristocrat, either by birth or by training, and neither were his people.

Saying there are similarities between Rhodesia and Zimbabwe is like complaining that the Allies, after occupying Germany, used the old Nazi concentration camps. Of course they did. They needed the buildings to hold all the German POWs. But it does not make the Allies responsible for Nazi crimes, or vice versa.

Many people who died in the various postcolonialist conflicts were not white. But if you think the wars were over anything but white supremacy versus black supremacy, or that the former did not lose and the latter did not win, you are simply not accurately reading history. But this reading leaves out a crucial fact. Colonialism ended not because the natives overcame the colonialists, but because the postcolonialists overcame the colonialists – with native assistance. Always willing to lend a hand, those natives.

And while he probably doesn’t know it, it’s not Ian Smith’s legacy that bothers Mugabe. He should really be blaming “Exeter Hall.” That name might not ring a bell, but for a long time it was a building on The Strand in London used for religious and philanthropic meetings including the Anti-Slavery Society, the Protestant Reformation Society and once served as the headquarters of the YMCA.

Richard Francis Burton dedicated his Wanderings in West Africa to “the real friends of Africa” and castigated “the philanthropists of Exeter Hall.” The “real friends” were the explorers, merchants, traders, soldiers, settlers and administrators – the exploiters. The “philanthropists” were Protestant missionaries. They don’t call themselves missionaries any longer, but this is only a name change.

In the 1940s, Exeter Hall’s main criticism of colonialism was that it retarded the economic development of Africa by preserving agrarian cultures and failing to create a modern, socialist, industrial state. With public-policy experts like these, who needs liars?

Liberal do-goodism might be their stated sentiment, but that’s not what drew so many to the flag of “a man, and a brother.” Humans will always want to exercise influence over events in the world. To wield power. And the philanthropic movement wields quite a bit of power today.

To get an idea about what these guys did read Burton’s description of Sierra Leone and ponder what he would make of Africa today. All of Africa was given to Exeter Hall, and Exeter Hall turned it all into Sierra Leone. And Exeter Hall’s modern successor is the notorious aid-ocracy. If good intentions guaranteed good results, Africa would be a paradise under their loving care. It quite simply is not, and it isn’t obvious it would continue to be a disaster zone if they left.

Mugabe inherited the Rhodesian state because Exeter Hall gave it to him. South Africa forced Rhodesia to surrender in a misguided attempt to appease the “international community,” which would have preferred if Rhodesia had surrendered earlier. The French have a saying for this: cet animal est tres mechant; quand on l’attaque, il ce defend. “This animal is very wicked; when you attack it, it defends itself.”

But the do-goodism didn’t turn out so well. Africa at its best is ruled by wa-Benzi (Big Men). At its worst, Mugabe and the Zuma decide they don’t want to take orders from Harvard anymore. They would prefer to interpret the word “independence” according to its literal meaning, because Harvard’s interpretation proved to be a bit more, well, Orwellian.

There is only one independent country in Africa. Its name is Somaliland. You won’t find it on a map. It is independent in the sense that “in” means “not,” and “dependent” means “dependent.” If Zimbabwe had truly achieved its “independence” in 1981 it would have returned to the traditional patterns and structures of government in that area of the world.

Instead, “independence” in sub-Saharan Africa meant the destruction of every remnant of traditional African society and aggressive Westernisation. In an independent Africa, rulers would have titles like “Sultan” and “Sheikh” and “Chief.” Instead, we see presidents and prime ministers. Ah, independence.

When it is finally written by honest and disinterested historians, the story of “decolonialisation” will be more properly written as a second Scramble for Africa. After WWII, the more or less responsible Tory administrators, merchants, settlers and soldiers to whom Britain and France assigned colonial government were stripped of their conquests, in favour of American and Whig missionaries, diplomats, journalists and academics. As always, the strong take from the weak.

Those winners devastated Africa. King Leopold looks like an amateur by comparison. They did this in exchange for a rich and permanent supply of jobs in aid, diplomacy, public policy and now “replacement” voters…sorry, immigrants. Today, Africa employs more white men than ever, although they don’t live there. To everyone involved, Zimbabwe is “progress.”

I feel sorry for the Africans because one of the great post-colonial taboos is the old practice of appointing European or international executives to manage a civil service or military staffed by natives. Even in the UN occupation of Kosovo, this taboo was faithfully preserved. But the French have retained a lot more of the mechanics of golden-age colonialism than most people think. I don’t think Paris entirely goes in for this whole “do-goodism” thing.

Noam Chomsky was right in one sense: the US is and always has been the world’s leading exporter of terrorism. Revolutionary terrorism. Support from the most prestigious institutions in America fuelled Bolivar, Mazzini, the Fenians, Juarez, Chiang, Castro, Mao, Ho, Mugabe, Mandela and Zuma.

The various “liberation struggles” had many American supporters outside Washington – including the World Council of Churches. It’s hard to see how any American activity in Africa, left-wing or right-wing, did the US much good. But if Ian Smith had supported the ANC, and used it as a pro-government militia which burned its enemies alive, these would be called crimes. But this principle only operates in one direction. It works against the Tories, but not against the Whigs.

Watch Africa Addio. The film contains probably the only live colour footage of genocide shot in 35mm: several helicopter shots of the murder of the Arabs in Zanzibar. The documentary doesn’t get a lot of press for some reason. It is known about but downplayed. The State Department was a little too busy at the time courting the winners.

Exeter Hall is now gone. Perhaps one day, the State Department, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Times and Harvard will quit supporting any murderous bandit warlord who can dupe them into thinking he’s an 18th-century Renaissance man, a 19th-century statesman or even a 21th-century technocrat. But I am not optimistic. The aid-ocracy delusion is too profitable for everyone involved.

Monday, 24 July 2017

The Devil is in the bargain bin

Here’s the thing, if you want to increase the diversity in businesses by adding more representation (of what…exactly? Customers? The public? A particular suburb? Your house?), go ahead. But you have to take responsibility for all the consequences, both good and bad.

Consider this direct quote from the Ministry of Women’s website: “Since 1986 the female labour force has increased by more than 50% and internationally New Zealand’s female labour force participation rate is above the OECD average.”

That’s fine, and I applaud the individual success of each and every one of those women. Yet the latest OECD Economic Survey of New Zealand shows this country’s labour productivity consistently dropping every year since that time.

Am I saying there’s a correlation? You bet. Is the diversification of gender at workplaces at fault? Who knows? But to pretend the push for diversity is an unmitigated good for society is disingenuous at best and manipulative at worst.

Are there plenty of mediocre men in the workplace who would be thrown out on their asses if more women challenge them? Absolutely. But the framing of this question assumes every time a woman is hired to replace a man it necessarily, by some magic, increases the quality of that workforce, when this simply isn’t true.

You’ll also notice that since about 1987 or so, consumer spending has gone waaaaay up as well. Hmmmm, how interesting. At the risk of sounding sexist, heavy consumption is a stereotype of women. Is this a victory for diversity in the workplace as well? Or does that not fit the narrative? Only in this culture do we want the system to force us to do the right thing so we can take the credit.

When they ask for more women CEOs, feminists miss the only important question: why is it always about access? Why don't women just, you know, invent their own things? The system isn’t stopping women from building anything. Instead, they want to be given power, rather than take it. By all means, write a story people will be telling in a thousand years. But to think you're better than someone who wrote a story 2000 years ago that you’re still reciting only broadcasts your resentment and incompetence. Wouldn't it be better to encourage women to participate in STEM for the sake of construction itself? Dispense with the power games already. You don't even like guns, but you're gonna need them eventually if you're going down that path.

In The Devil Wears Prada, Anne Hathaway gets a job in her chosen field, and although she performs the job just fine, she is treated poorly because she doesn't share Meryl Streep's values.

Hathaway is beaten down by Streep until she upends her values, abandons her personal life and destroys her relationships in order to placate her abusive boss, who in return belittles her for not knowing the history of the colour of her sweater. So what? Hathaway has Stockholm syndrome? That's the easy criticism. No - listen closely to Streep's words:

"This... 'stuff'? Oh... ok. I see, you think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select out, oh I don't know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue, it's not turquoise, it's not lapis, it's actually cerulean. You're also blindly unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. 
"And then I think it was Yves St Laurent, wasn't it, who showed cerulean military jackets? And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic "casual corner" where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and so it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of 'stuff.'"

Yeah, well, two can play at that game, Streep. Did you know that the width of European rail tracks can be traced back to the average width of a Roman horse butt? Romans built a lot of roads for vehicles designed to be drawn by two horses, which determined the axle length. Over the years, they left grooves, so everybody who came after them made carts the same width because otherwise, it was a bumpy ride.

When train cars were invented, engineers naturally used existing carts as a model, so the size of the subway car Streep took to that fitting room was a result of horse breeding decisions made thousands of years ago. Like she said though, small things can propagate across time. It does not, however, make ancient Roman horse butts inherently important.

Hathaway is in the firing line, but the joke is on Streep because even with all that work and effort in fashion, the cerulean sweater still ended up in a bargain bin. All that effort, for what? Did you make some money? Get some prestige? Did you win sex? Because those are the reasons men work insane hours on freezing cold oil platforms deep in the Bering Sea.

Being a CEO isn't about the creativity for men. Or, more precisely, if being creative didn't earn men sex, would they still work like this? So then why are women fighting to get to more work if they don't even know what the reward is? I get that women want to be allowed to work. But 60 hour weeks, constant litigation threats and multiple million-dollar loan repayments? Really, you want that? You do realise men don't care about powerful women, right? The singer Lorde is probably filthy rich, but I don't know any guy who wants to bang her.

Streep is a just tool for the system. She smirks in superiority because she "knows" how the system works. But she is only allowed to know this because her enlightenment poses no threat to it whatsoever. She might act like she's got it all figured out, but she has no idea what forces were acting on her and what these forces wanted from her that elevated her to celebrity status. Most men don't even know what those forces are - and they set the system up this way.

No one seems to acknowledge the uniquely male aspect here either. Clothes that are traditionally male constitute a smaller set than clothes that are female. Women can wear men’s shirts, jeans, t-shirts, tactical gear and are still women. They can also wear dresses, skirts and more conservative clothing and still code as a woman.

So you might say the mainstream believes girls dressing as boys and doing boy things is an upgrade for girls, whereas boys dressing as girls is a downgrade for boys. It’s not. The consumers are women, the rest of you just pad the numbers. You have your sexism backwards. People imagine "sexism" as institutional power directed top down against women, oppressing them with sexist jokes. But it's much more illuminating to understand sexism as just another tool to increase consumption. Even Streep knows it costs more for women to dress professionally, even as they probably get paid less.

Do you understand the infrastructure necessary to cause people to disavow something that they know with total clarity, just to keep the money flowing? Replace "feminism" with "civil rights" and "executive positions" with "votes." It doesn't matter. This is a game that can be played forever. The form of the question is about whether The Beast is being fed. You have to defeat consumerism or your social change will be for nought - frantic energy dissipating like a car up on the blocks, gunning its engine in furious self-righteousness as it passes hundred dollar bills to the gasman. Yes, I'm aware how quickly that metaphor collapsed.

I just think anyone who says diversity is only about “treating people fairly” should keep in mind that the system doesn’t see you as a person, it only sees you as a battery. It doesn’t care about your sex, gender, religion or political belief. It only cares that you act in the required direction. All you’re good for is how much you can produce and consume.

The problem is, even when women get into that CEO position, how many of them will stop to ask, “hey, why did they let so many of us in?...”

Saturday, 22 July 2017

On choices, Christianity and Chester Bennington

I

Chester Bennington died yesterday. He was the frontman for Linkin Park, which was a big part of my life as a teenager. The Meteora album was in my portable CD player when it stopped working.

II

Linkin Park wasn't a refuge for me. There was nothing about my life that needed the kind of self-reflection the metal genre seems to offer kids. I spent most of my time outside having fun sneaking around my neighbourhood or building ridiculous huts out of plywood and incompetence. I grew up in a transitional era when computer games were pathetic but immensely creative and nowhere as fun as shooting joey guns and exploding fireworks.

That was the world of my Linkin Park discovery. Actually, it was my neighbour Mark who introduced me. His mother bought the Hybrid Theory album and they both had excellent taste in music so I knew it would be good. I used to wander over to his place to listen to it while we played Halo. I think for about a week over the school holidays, we cranked that CD loud. And then one day Mark said, "Nah, not Lick My Park again, let's listen to Queen." I'm not sure how long it took me to buy my own copy of Hybrid Theory, but I eventually did. It wasn't my first CD, that award goes to The Corrs (yes, I know...)

It's hard to put a finger on exactly why I listened to Linkin Park. Maybe it was rebellious, but I don't think so. My departure from religion was actually very structured. I picked up a book by New Zealand journalist Ian Wishart called The Divinity Code and started reading. On the second page, he introduced the four writers called the "new atheists." Rather than let him explain what those people wrote, I read the four books first and returned to his critique afterwards.

So Linkin Park wasn't some sort of devil worship gateway music. Rock music is a kind of channelled aggression mostly lacking in the rest of my life. In some way, it's cathartic for teenagers. And I was already deconstructing my religious upbringing anyway.

III

But I'm writing this because Chester killed himself. He wasn't caught in a car accident and his heart didn't suddenly give out. He tied one end of some sort of rope to a tall, sturdy object and fashioned a tight knot closing a loop around his neck. I hear Chester struggled with drugs and alcohol and I know he was abused as a child, although I don't want to hear the details and won't be searching them out. Something about his struggle was too great a burden, and so he chose to finish it.

I remember in my mid-teens telling my mother I'd thought about suicide. Even now I don't think that confession was true. Sure, I probably "thought about it" but it wasn't a contemplation - there's a difference. My teen years introduced the normal adolescent skin problems which I found tough to deal with. I realise now most of them could have been averted if I knew to change my pillowcase every night (you spend about eight hours each day rubbing your damn face on a single piece of cloth, so of course there'll be issues). I naturally had ups and downs with self-esteem. I could get a bit, well, melodramatic. Bear in mind I still believed in magic as a Christian. So perhaps I was just hoping the Big Guy upstairs would hear my despair. My mother took the skin issues seriously, but she had no idea how to fix them. Propitiations were probably all my immature mind had left to do.

Chester's life was nothing like mine. Fighting others is far simpler than fighting yourself. The mind is an abusive boyfriend that will do ANYTHING to avoid change. It will even destroy itself to cancel the effort. Perhaps this was Chester's central issue, I have no idea. But if nothing external could help him, then the enemy was internal. Everyone knows what kind of adversary the self can be. Maybe you aren't fighting it today, but you will eventually. So you should learn now, while there's still time, how to defend against your self's attempts to defend itself.

Yesterday one of my Christian friends said Chester set a bad example for his fans by killing himself. I realise Chester isn't doing much of anything right now, but that wasn't the point. Linkin Park's music was introspective and castigating, not of others, but of the band's personal struggles. The lyrics were their experiences and we were simply the third parties. The songs didn't belong to us. It was their trial.

My friend's point was that it's all well Linkin Park expressed those trials in musical form, trying work things out and recover - whatever recovery looks like - but when Chester hanged himself he showed his fans how the recovery couldn't be done. That no matter how tightly he bandaged his demons, experiences and fears, his inimical self was victorious anyway. That's not a good message.

IV

And I agree, to a certain extent. But religion is clouding my friend's judgement. You see, to him, there's something special about life. Most Christians don't quite know what exactly this "specialness" is, but they have a gene-deep certainty that it's there. Apparently, only God is capable of giving life, so He's the one who gets to retract it. So to take your own life is a sin because it's not yours to take away. This is perfectly reasonable thinking - for a slave.

The thing about being a slave is you don't know you're a slave. We're told the fences are there to protect us from the outside threats. Strongmen are at the top because no one knows what to do next. God is needed otherwise we wouldn't know right from wrong. The manacles on our wrists and markings on our shoulders display group identity, not ownership. In fact, those aren't shackles at all, says the new master, they're...something else.

But a freed slave only changes his master. The fresh restraints are sold to him in the exuberance of transitional freedom as the semiotics of emancipation, not of new slavery. The slave believes and uses the names for the restraints uttered by his new master who calls them by any name except limitation.

This is why you should never wear a sign or speak a slogan you didn't invent, it is only another manacle. Christians are still using other people's words to describe themselves. They speak about mercy, grace, righteousness, resurrection, etc. The proclamation is simple: my life would not be complete without this belief system. I was one way before, and now I am different. But only slaves look for someone else to free them, for a saviour. They never observe how simple it is to free yourself. What keeps a slave in line is the false assumption that on the other side of the fence lies danger and fear. Where did the slave hear this? Was it from his master?

Speaking strictly from a historical perspective, Christianity is a slave religion. It was built by peasants frustrated at the corrupt priestly caste in first century Judea. The priests were supposed to defend and help the peasant caste, but they aligned themselves instead with Rome's power. In early Judea, the peasants were always going to find a messiah. It was just a matter of time. And what better way to galvanise a desperate caste so fearful of the fence than for that saviour to also be a God?

V

My friend made the central mistake of all slaves. He gave a specific power to Chester to send some ethereal "message" and cause teenagers to act in a particular direction. This specific power is the first one removed by any master (and readily given up as too burdensome by every slave). It is the power of agency. Whatever your reaction to Chester's death, saying it sends a bad message is founded on the assumption that other people have the authority to set standards. Which is why the reflex is to complain about the actions of a singer, not assert the insignificance of those actions.

This is the same problem with those hoping to ban Photoshopping in magazines. This obsessive worry about what's in an ad is completely predicated on the assumption that the ad, the media, has all the power to decide what's desirable. And therefore, of course, it does. But the important point is not that you believe this to be true, the point is that you want this to be true. You want it to be true that advertising sets the standard of beauty because in the insane calculus of your psychology you have a better chance of changing ads than you have of changing yourself.

Christians can't comprehend suicide because no slave knows what it's like to have power. I was told once that being blind doesn't mean a person sees black all the time. It's more like seeing out of your elbow. This is what Christians don't understand. Before you were born, there was only nothingness. And you will return to nothingness once this brief spark sputters for the last time. It will not be a continuous, never-ending stretch of days being dead. It will be as if you have never existed. Death is like seeing out your elbow.

And for someone like Chester to enact the ultimate power over the one thing he truly had control should not be seen as abhorrent. Neither should it be seen as good. Suicide is painful for those left on this crusty planet. But it's not for them! If you organise your life around what other people feel, you'll never be happy and neither will they. Letting externalities guide your life is the definition of slavery, which is precisely why Christians use this argument.

My reading of the Stoics is that life is the toughest thing any of us will ever do. And attempting to apprehend and grapple with your own limitation and vulnerability to reduce the amount of suffering for you and others is the only job you have while this spark is burning. It's difficult, but you still have to do it anyway. The most frightening thing about existential power is how easy it is to hand it over to any master offering fresh fences.

VI

In Breaking Bad, Walter White chooses not to get chemotherapy to treat his cancer, which might look like agency, but it is not. He rationalises his decision by saying:

"All right, I've got the Talking Pillow now. Okay? We all, in this room, we love each other. We want what's best for each other, and I know that. I am very thankful for that. 
"But what I want. What I want, what I need, is a choice. Sometimes, I feel like I never actually make any of my own. Choices, I mean. My entire life, it just seems I never you know, had a real say about any of it. Now this last one, cancer all I have left is how I choose to approach this."

And he sounds in charge. He sounds like he knows what he's doing. But it is a mistake. His thoughts are wrong in the only way that matters: pro status quo. Walter complains about never having made a decision in his life. Up until now, his life has coasted along. Go to school. Get a degree. Find a job. Get married. Pay your taxes. Buy a house. His life is like a cart on tracks. Now the Talking Pillow gives him one final decision in his miserable life. But this is all a lie.

Walter is trapped in the thinking of a slave. He looks into his past and sees nothing but an uninterrupted line of compelled decisions. He sees the servitude, but he doesn't comprehend its grip. Walter confuses his correct decisions - from the perspective of the system - with a lack of existential power. This is the trap. He doesn't see how every second of every day he was actually in control. Nothing stopped him from getting up, right now, and flying to Fiji. At no point was he ever robbed of agency.

But because he made the choices the system wanted him to make, his life was harmonious and everything seemed to line up. He studied and got a job. He talked to a girl and got married. He paid his taxes and the IRS didn't blow off his door hinges. At every step, Walter was in control. Yet here he sits complaining of a life as a crippled slave. No Walter, you are lying to yourself.

When he takes control over his life, the path set up by the system begins to fork. This wasn't the first crossroads he'd seen, but it is the only one he's ever really looked at. So he turns left and climbs over that fence. It is at that moment Walter discovers something real about existential power. Slaves live behind that fence with plug-and-play livelihoods painted by choices made in the required direction. But when you decide to apprehend life, when you climb over the fence, the system cannot protect you any longer.

And that's the thing about existential power. Choices made from the moment you realise you have it might lead to incredible riches and wonderment - or everyone around you could die. This is what it means to no longer be a slave. You are at the mercy of the nature of reality. There is nothing more empowering than this. But if the result of emancipation could be the collapse of everything, then is it any wonder why enlightenment is in such short supply?

Walter picked his life. You may not think you picked yours, you may think you were forced into it and inescapably tied to it, but I know that every moment is a choice, right up to and including blowing your brains out. Saying, "I had no choice," is itself a choice. Your choices may be stupid, but they're still choices. And as all choices in life are ultimately binary, you really have no one else to blame for them but yourself. Flipping a coin should win you happiness 50% of the time. If you're running less than that...well, consider getting a coin.

Walter and Chester both knew something about the world Christians can never know. Sometimes the task of embracing the consequences of choices might lead to a decision that the burden is simply too great. Going once more into that forbidding land outside the fence is simply not worth the effort this time. It is then that the freed slave still has the blessing of falling to his knees and embracing the full meaning of agency with one final choice. To secure existential power and snuff out the spark.

I get that it's easier to be a slave, and far less suffering will come with that choice. But I am asking you, at what cost?