Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Retribution and punishment in Israel and Palestine

Both sides in Israel and Palestine have their wizened, bearded old men admonishing their followers with upturned finger. Everyone gives them far too much respect and credibility. What is a Jewish state to an Arab? What is a Palestinian state to a Jewish settler. In both cases, the answer is "screwed."

The purpose of punishment is not to dissuade others from doing something, it is retribution and retaliation for the crime. And it is stupid. The eye-gouged victim gets nothing by having her attacker maimed. It might work if his eyes were transplanted into her head, but that would just be compensation. The reason "eye for an eye" is senseless and barbaric is the attacker does have a reason. One that made sense to him. Perhaps she rejected his offer of marriage. Maybe that was an insult, or it broke his heart. But it is a reason.

Justice demands he be maimed, but he thinks the punishment is unjustified because it didn't take into account his reason. Remember that the villain is the hero of his own story. Now he feels further wronged and wants to retaliate.

Multiply the victims and attackers by several million, stretch the chain to over 70 years (at minimum), toss in religious or ethnic bigotry to make it unclear when the first wrong occurred and against whom, and the result is this intractible conflict. With the toxic logic of retribution, why shouldn't the victims in Gaza be entitled to the eyes of the Israelis who attacked them?

Retribution and retaliation are childish, primitive and barbaric methods of punishment. Burning the attacker's eyes isn't going to change the essential social inequality. Punishment isn't supposed to deter the criminal, it is supposed to deter crime. The modern criminal justice system protects society from the criminal. This is why, by definition, there are no victimless crimes. The system which passed the law is the victim.

The courts in Palestine are functioning as a state-run hitman, nothing more. There is no justice involved. It may be a system, but it is not a system of justice. But the alternative is anarchy or mob rule, in which each member of the mob tries to outdo their cohorts in meting out gruesome punishments.

The justice system in Israel is imperfect, but it is orders of magnitude less imperfect than the individuals operating in that system. It constrains everyone and filters out the rage, vengeance, prejudice and bias. Even judges from the bench sometimes lament that they would like to expand or reduce punishment but that the law constrains them. However flawed, this system is able to maintain a moral authority.

The problem is not how to bring the rest of the Middle East places into the modern era. During the 50's and 60's in Afghanistan, for instance, women attended universities without covering up. In pre-revolution Iran, men and women socialised openly. The problem is how did the feudal patriarchy re-assert itself?

In the last half-century, whatever poor and exploited remained in these countries during their brief modern eras was allowed to fester. Into that wound a radical ideology found an opening to point out the "decadence" of their countryfolk. The critical flaw wasn't the traditionalists, it was in modernity failing to mount an effective counterargument. Westernisation meant money and the good life, but that's also how the underclass was defining decadence.

The real argument, as it always must be, should be that modernity is the true embodiment of the local culture and that the radical element is the corrupting agent. Orthodox Jews believe they are the true Jews of Israel and everyone else is decadent or lapsed. Yet it shouldn't surprise anyone that they exploit and marginalise women, physically abuse children and enforce layers upon layers of patriarchal authority.

The orthodox Jewish community has more in common with the radical Islamic community it fears and reviles than with mainstream Israeli society in Tel Aviv. The difference is that Tel Avivians consider themselves to be the embodiment of Jewish culture too, a culture which includes the rabbinical traditions, but also the secular traditions science, philosophy and art.

The history and religion of the Jewish people demand their state be in the land of their ancestors, in the land to which they were bound by a covenant between themselves and their Creator. This is a quote from a book, but it is precisely this turn of phrase that complicates things. History and religion cannot make demands. Only living people can make demands. History does not exist in any real sense. It's a story shaped by the teller to suit the present time. Where can I go to find 18th century Vienna?

And remember: there is no title deed for countries. There is no international court to adjudicate this dispute and no world police to enforce it. Yes, the Israelis took land away from Arabs. Yes, it was wrong. No, they aren't getting it back. That's reality. They have land claims - fine. To whom do they present those claims? The government that took them in the first place?

There is no international legal authority. The UN is not a world congress, it can't make law. Parties can sign treaties, and they can break them. It happens all the time. Arguing about old claims is pointless because it doesn't matter who is correct. The only thing that matters is who is sitting on the land now and whether they can be persuaded or forced to share or leave.

Most Israelis say they are happy to share the country with Arabs, but the entrenched power interests probably are not, even though they are in the minority. Palestinians would also rather work and live in Israel than overthrow the government and replace it with a country resembling Jordan.

Both sides look for an epiphany, pouring over faded texts in ruins of deserts as if some previously unknown connection will make all the pieces fit together. They still want to connect the religious texts to the historical record, but why? Is there some subconscious belief that historic accuracy makes them spiritually accurate to the extent that the supernatural is real? Do people really want to believe so badly they subconsciously look for evidence of God?

People are killing each other over this piece of dirt because the parties are the same as each other. This forever-war is a bilateral attempt to forge an identity where none would properly exist. For each side, possessing the land makes their prophecy, their revelation, their identity more accurate and more real than the other's.

Each side uses its children to kill the other side's children for the right to put their stern and sanctimonious long-bearded old men into the temple to God, which, if he/it exists, most definitely does not exist in a manner either side could ever comprehend.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Twilight of Chomsky’s foreign policy

I may be the only person who watched the now-famous “Justice vs. Power” Chomsky-Foucault debate and realised how much of a charlatan Noam Chomsky actually is. Michel Foucault not only won the debate, he won the rest of the twentieth century Baudrillard didn’t capture.

And ol’ Baldy continues to rack up points well into this Ritalin-addled twenty-first century. Chomsky contents himself with packing out meetings of the Socialist Student Union in every private university kids attend when they can’t get into to Ivy Leagues. On linguistics, Chomsky is unquestionably brilliant, but on politics, he has always sounded like a teenager.

This guiding light of the I-hate-my-daddy contingent of the unemployable political left continues to argue with sophomoric equivalency that the US in its conduct of the War on Terror should be governed by standards of international law. This is gross anti-intellectualism. The world should be fair and equal, and that’s that. It is not an argument, it is a belief without foundation in evidence.

Noam Chomsky
The problem is that it doesn’t hold anyone else to this standard (except arguably for Israel). When you point out people’s hypocrisy, don’t forget about the casualty-producing systems. If you focus on only one system, as Chomsky does, you can’t really claim any standard other than hatred of that system. He’s no more limited to criticising the US than he is limited to criticising his own family or the whole world. Those are both systems he’s a part of, but he doesn’t feel limited to them.

This comes down to two issues: the role of principles in the formation of policy, and the perpetual inability of the left to articulate a concrete platform for a future society. Without attention to whether one’s actions follow one’s principles, you leave yourself open to not only charges of hypocrisy but outright hostility.

But here’s the thing. There is no “international law.” There is no universally acknowledged sense of anything except hunger and gravity. There is only one rule: the most powerful make the rules, and every nation has to follow those rules except the most powerful.

This exception is part of the rule. It’s the most important part of the rule. It says when Country A invades Country B, the US Marine Corps can take over both countries until Halliburton arrives and ensures it won’t cost the New Zealand taxpayer $75 to drive a Japanese import to the Warehouse for “quality” goods made by the most skilled child-labourers global capitalism can provide.

Chomsky and others on the left call this “exceptionalism.” Exceptionalism is bad, you see, because it’s unfair. Everyone should be held to the same standard. Everybody should have to follow the rules, including (and especially) the US. But these people only bring up exceptionalism when they can score cheap points by crying “hypocrisy!”

What is exceptionalism? Exceptionalism is why the unemployment rate in the US, France, Germany, Japan and New Zealand is between 5-9%, but in Spain and Greece – where people are rioting – it’s approaching 15-25%. Exceptionalism is the first set’s ability to play with the global economy while citizens of other countries bear the brunt of any mistakes.

If the US was held to the same standard the conditions of most of Chomsky’s listeners (the 98% who think the top 2% should pay more taxes) would revert to that of Eastern Europeans. But if fair is fair and right is right, then they should just wait. The global economy is due for another recession soon.

Let me rephrase the one and only rule of international law: whoever has the guns and the money gets to make, break and enforce the rules. That is not my opinion of what the rule should be. That’s what the rule is. It is a property of nature based on thousands of years of historical evidence. It is as immutable as the laws of physics. Failure to acknowledge it is a mark of insanity.

But still, Chomsky grinds on: “We should be treated like we treat others.” He plays the “should” game. The world should be like this. The government should do that. That’s why he’s still so popular in the age of Trump with a crowd that has no skin in the game. It’s easy to dictate terms without accountability.

Progressives have historically been very good at critique and awful at implementation. Ascribe the evils of the world to control, institutions, the Panopticon or whatever, but at some point, there needs to be a plan that’s more than “tear it all down.” Most small utopian communities are either too obscure to inspire or die in their cradles from infighting. Chomsky should focus on pragmatic, constructive efforts rather than generating reams of paper cataloguing the failures of modern society.

And I would be remiss if I failed to point out that there’s a reason why left’s systems seem fascist: because they have to be fascist in order to implement the systems. Fighting fascism means reducing government, not pushing for more of it. This is Tolkien’s lesson. Any system that requires a great degree of government control is, (almost) by definition, fascist, which is the same thing as progressive but with a “for the people” stuck on the end of the state motto.

Ol' Baldy: Michel Foucault
Chomsky could not come to terms with reality. Foucault lived reality. Foucault was very much about getting to the bottom of what is. And though he found the same state Chomsky did – language and media as instruments of social control – Foucault found much more. He flourished in the idea of total dominance by power. He explored and dissected it, holding up its organs for all to see. You can see it in this passage:

The proletariat doesn’t wage war against the ruling class because it considers such a war to be just. The proletariat makes war with the ruling class because, for the first time in history, it wants to take power. And because it will overthrow the power of the ruling class it considers such a war to be just…One makes war to win, not because it is just…it seems to me that the idea of justice in itself is an idea which in effect has been invented and put to work in different types of societies as an instrument of a certain political and economic power or as a weapon against that power.

And yet the trouble with Foucault is that he demands a brutal and total acceptance of reality and a suspicion of everything else. After all, any illusion of what should be may simply be an internalised expression of the State’s control over you. So you must never say should. You must only see and, if possible, take some power for yourself.

With Chomsky, all that’s necessary to understand international relations is to reverse and flip every word uttered by the great academic. So for that reason alone, he is useful to read. Foucault died long before the world proved him right. Chomsky has lived long enough to have learned better. And yet still he persists. What’s that word for people who do the same thing over and over expecting a different result…

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Climate change and the beast of consumerism

It might sound strange, but climate change is deeply geopolitical. What will sound even stranger is that the reason it is geopolitical is because business is involved. It is important to see how its inclusion is actually a defence against change. Companies know this, which is why they offered to help.

Consumerism is a beast, a global beast, far more powerful than any mere government and perhaps Gaia herself. A business response to any problem will always be to merge product with identity and lifestyle, to keep everything exactly where it is.

It must do this because obtaining energy from solar or wind is far more expensive than getting it from fossil fuels. The ethics part is pure marketing and spin. It is postmodern: Buy this product and a portion of the proceeds will go to a charity which stands opposed to the damage caused by that same product. The response is an attempt to integrate forgiveness for consumption into the act of consumption itself.

Business needs to be absolutely modern about climate change. It must acknowledge the inherent shortcomings of a consumer society. Any solution lies in science and careful social progress. The consumer society is being replaced by a social society, where people base their lives on the actions they take and not the goods they buy. People need to stop being alienated from each other and forced together creating a gross asymmetry between the consumer choice and its social alternative.

No, this doesn’t mean more immigration. It means public transportation should be free, paid for by astronomically high petrol taxes, vehicle taxes and road tolls. This would force a social choice to see cars as inferior and lead to their use being discouraged. The problem is not in discarding the car – which is the greatest symbol of personal freedom ever devised. The problem is in evolving modern society away from consumerism, which is what a car really represents. Business cannot do this.

The need is obvious. Infrastructure wouldn’t be expensive to maintain if people refused to buy junk they don't need. The junk wouldn’t arrive from China at ports, wouldn’t get transferred to rail cars then to articulated trailers headed on long haul highways. And none of that junk would land in grotesque shopping malls, all of which require a snake pit of roads, junctions and overpasses.

New lightbulbs aren’t enough, they are the problem. A radical social choice is needed to eliminate the illusory freedoms provided by consumerism (the false choice among commodities for which a need is created artificially by the dominant ideology) and elevate true freedom (the freedom from the anxieties of basic human survival). The penalties of consumption must be integrated into the consumption itself, forcing people to act with full understanding of the consequences.

Sure, one complaint may be that institutions shouldn’t be co-opted by wealthy corporations. But those institutions were never really democratic. They aren't supposed to be. The Western model was predicated on the assumption that the voter, the fundamental unit of democracy, was a wealthy educated landowner. It assumes the wealthy elite doesn't need to influence the government by way of back channels because only the wealthy elite can elect the government in the first place.

From this perspective, anything that falls short is a defective compromise. The radical’s greatest opponent is not the conservative, but the liberal. Because the liberal is the pleasant face of a dominant mythology. Anything short of radical transformation leaves some aspect of the old system intact. And as history shows, eventually, the old system grows and spread like cancer to take over the entire edifice.

If it’s true such a social change is required due to climate change, it needs to be accepted that the great adventures of capitalism are now entirely out of the question. The egalitarian, dignified society doesn’t send people to the moon – desperate consumerist hegemonies do. Those adventures are trying to prop up deteriorating myths with grand and magnificent spectacles.

The consumer society produces as its consequence the art factories in Hollywood and New York because it industrialises everything, including the production of art. Consumerism eats even philosophy, turning it into new goods. Philosophies are supposed to compete, but consumerism is different. Humans have not yet discovered a philosophy powerful enough to attack consumerism and survive productisation. But doing this is the only way climate change can be assuaged.

Rest assured that the hobbled compromise with consumerism that is liberal democracy will ultimately supply free healthcare and universal basic wages, but it will also ensure citizens have to use them. It will create doctors so it can make us sick. It will sell affordable insurance so it can sell us sexy unsafe cars.

It will produce the trendy sustainable and “green” object and be there to collect it from the garbage after it sells the counter-trendy “green” object. It will treat society towards a boom so it can enjoy the bust. Consumerism will make sure people are rich enough to desire things they don't have, but poor enough that some things are always outside their reach.

So we have to pick. The choice is between a radical restructuring of modern society or continued ruthless global consumerism upholstered in postmodern liberal democracy. If climate change is a reality business cannot be the answer. Consumerism will eat the movement – it already has – morphing it into a product to feed the beast.

The choice is between a poverty of consumer choices on the one hand and the poverty of the consumerist life on the other. Those are the only two choices. The religious fundamentalists and the fascists are merely reactionaries. Their problem, quite literally, is that they find the global environmentalist’s lack of faith in their own ideals disturbing.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

The doomed dark alliance of progressives and Islamists

In the last three months, the UK has suffered three high-profile terror attacks. It would be the easy to push them aside and “carry on,” which is the code word for “get on board with the plan." But that explains nothing. And these attacks need explanation.

It's not the constant attacks bothering people, it's the lack of a counterattack. Sure, the British military is fighting overseas, but it has always been at war with East Asia, I mean, the Islamic State. Apologies, my fiction sometimes leaks into reality...

But no matter how much our rulers deny the agency of Islamists, the jihadists know something many Britons don’t: they are locked in a game of power. Until this reality is understood, every move by those justifiably concerned by terrorism will be the wrong one.

Terrorism is a ring of power. And the problem with forging rings of power is they tend to slip from one's finger. While it's tempting to organise special powers to benefit a cause, no one can be in power forever. And in their fight for control, the progressives built a jewellery shop. They didn't learn Tolkien's lesson: the thing to do with power is destroy it, not wield it. And now the Islamists have the ring.

Terrorism isn’t complicated. Terrorism is anarchism: a shattering of order. Islamic terrorism (which is in every case left-wing – as you can see every time Osama quotes Chomsky) is productive because it results in increasing communal deference to the Islamic community and expansion of the political power and privilege of Muslims and their progressive sponsors.

Terrorism works in a democracy because political action is the capture of the psychologies of the power base (the population) to prefer one form of democracy over another. Placards and door-knocking are both fine, but violent action is not only allowed, it is expected.

Think of it like this. If there is no terrorism at a particular time, either the democratic ideology that benefits the most from terrorism is so overwhelmed by the power structure, or that ideology actually has power. In other words, the terrorist succeeds when, and only when, he is allied to an interested third party or political force.

Another thing to consider is those terrorists in the UK were second or third generation Britons. This is not unexpected. Children of Islamic communities in the UK have been taught about democracy from day one and now wish to boost Islamic values through democratic activism. To do this, they utilise a leftist tactic to compel the system to bend to their demands. That deserves an A+.

This is how the democratic system works, nothing is broken. To defeat terrorism, democracy must be removed, not Muslims, and order restored. Either that or Muslims are allowed to succeed in shifting society and taking control over the machinery of government. I know this is true because it has been done before – by the progressives themselves.

So why can’t progressives, who control Western government and used both terrorism and free speech to gain this power, recognise what’s happening? They are paranoid about a return of the white middle-class and ancien regime, the historic domestic enemy of the scholar caste – an enemy that quite simply no longer exists. A husky shell of its former self.

The other problem is progressives don't enjoy thinking of themselves as rulers because that would mean that a) the revolution is finished and b) they must mature into an aristocracy and shoulder the responsibility of governance. They don’t seem to realise there are only three fundamental versions of human government: aristocracy, monarchy and democracy.

Democracy is useful to undermine a power structure but never for permanent governance. Democracy evolves into aristocracy, which in turn becomes a monarchy – the default system of government. (Nation-states are probably a bizarre historical blip and will likely devolve into city-states eventually, a far more manageable structure. But that's another story.)

The paramount question for modern rulers is: what should we do with all these people? There also wouldn’t be much point to ruling without wealth, so how can rulers ensure GDP growth? For the UK and Europe, the importation of millions of adult Muslim males is a rational but misguided policy to answer both questions at once.

From the system’s perspective, immigrants are batteries, meant to produce and consume, and keep the GDP ticking ever upwards. Of course, if the British people had been encouraged to breed instead, none of this would be necessary. But since the white middle-class is a political threat to the ruling progressive scholar caste, natural population growth was replaced by immigration on the assumption that immigrants can be controlled with welfare money and the odd political concession.

The white middle-class traded feigned (and sometimes sincere) belief in the progressive ideology in return for safety and prosperity. They were willing to put up with the deconstruction of traditions, to accept gender-neutral bathrooms and recite the hymns of human equality if only they could get on with their lives in peace and security. But they were lied to.

Progressives are funny creatures. Brexit and Trump aren't harbingers of an old aristocracy creeping back. They are a consequence of progressives refusing to take responsibility once they took power. Permanent revolution is not a recipe for sound governance. Chaos must at some point form into order, or the whole show collapses and no one gets to rule.

Because of their paranoia, progressives took the rational step to allow Islamists to terrorise the white middle-class with near impunity (for instance, with the Rotherham rape gangs because those girls are the daughters and sisters of the men who pose an actual threat to progressive rule). This is simple mathematics. Terrorism and crime keep one’s political enemies thinking about their safety, not political change.

But progressive rulers have missed one crucial fact: Muslims have agency. Progressives can’t seem to see that the Islamists are using terrorism not to be represented within the existing system, but to collapse and replace it with Sharia.

If the Islamists succeed, they won't let the progressives remain in power simply because of leftist virtue. Arabs aren't like the US imports from sub-Saharan Africa. They bring an ancient ideology, dreaming for a thousand years about global domination – just like their Christian siblings.

While the progressives promised change but only took power, Muslims want actual change and power. To them, the democratic process is a means to eviscerate the system from within. It appears no amount of "just love each other" will stop this, the only answer is the imposition of order.

Eisenhower said the plan will always fail catastrophically. It is planning that matters most. Janissaries begin as tools, but end as executioners. It didn’t work in Ottoman Turkey, and it won’t work now.

The plan will fail. Might makes right and no amount of rhetorical warping will bend reality. It might be “nice” to believe everyone is good and that people are made, not born. But strong responsibility and order must be introduced. If progressives will not do it, then the Islamists will. There is no such thing as an alliance between competing power structures.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Why progressives hate freedom of speech

I've noticed a transmogrification of free speech. The violent protests at the University of Berkely, California, the historical bastion of free speech and open debate, was a major example of speech being confined to the Official Truth or the Big ShutUp, as Mark Steyn says. Something has shifted.

People seem confused that progressives want to ban free speech when they championed it only a handful of decades ago. Yet from a framework of postmodernism, the debate is a tool of oppression. Accepting free speech risks "normalising" opposing ideas, creating a default assumption that because both sides are speaking, therefore the ideas are worth talking about. In the culture wars, this sneaky reasoning was necessary to undermine the establishment. But now that the progressives own government, free speech is "problematic." Hmmm.

Simply put, free speech is no longer useful for the "correct side of history." When the various revolutionary movements began in the 18th century, they held a single goal of deconstructing the existing order to replace it with a more equitable regime.

The establishment at the time was broadly monarchical and clerical, in which status is conferred by birth, breeding and personal character, with wealth serving as a prerequisite but not a mark of actual distinction. Oh, and it was heavily Christian.

In fact, precisely because the establishment system was built from Christian assumptions, the revolutionary ideologues (who were themselves built from Christian assumptions) employed the Christian concept of truth above all else as a major weapon. Other Christian or Greek concepts such as freedoms of assembly and speech, humanitarian ideals and the "last will be first" were integral to the messages of the Jacobins, Georges Eugène Sorel, Karl Marx, etc. The fight was between traditional Christians and progressive Christians from day one, competing for control over the Christian machinery of power.

In a monarchy, most people just get on with their lives. Power politics occurs between elites in the capital. Sure, sometimes people are drafted to fight in a king's war. But no monarch goes to war because he wants to, he goes to war because he has to. Anything remotely resembling total war for ideological domination is out of the question. The Treaty of Westphalia and Classical International Law limited those horrors even further. Every king must stick to his own patch.

But in a democracy, a peasant may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in him. It's not who you support, but which version of democracy. And so it goes. A democracy is only secure when the entire world bends to its will. Today, the most successful mainline Protestant sect today is the Unitarian progressives, aka state-transcendentalists or socialists.

There are few doctrinal differences between secularists, nontheistic Unitarians, theistic Unitarians, and for that matter all the Protestant sects described as “mainline.” But, since I am not a Christian but a dead Chinese philosopher, the divinity of this or that, or the validity of ritual X or Y, does not really concern me. What concerns me is following Stalin's principle: Who? Whom?

The best way I can describe what's going in is that the progressive version of Christianity is in near total control of the system of Western Christian power constructed over 2000 years. How did this happen?

After defeating the other two major forms of Christian democracy -- German fascism and Soviet Communism -- the American progressives were the last ideology left standing in 1991. They were so close to achieving total psychological capture over the planet. For ten years in the 90s, they stood unopposed using the official press (mainstream media) to align every country on earth.

But then the internet was invented.

This created a parallel information organ the progressives could not control. Not because they didn't want to, but because the machinery of government the progressives had just taken over lacked the access and tools to capture and utilise this new internet structure. The only moves it has are attempts to introduce oversight and regulation. Progressives want to abolish online anonymity, forcing their enemies into the offline world where their government power still exists. Following the recent terror attacks in London, UK Prime Minister Theresa May is trying again to do exactly this.

Put it down, Boromir
"We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed. Yet that is precisely what the internet and the big companies that provide internet-based services provide," she says.

Mrs May is not stupid. She knows success in a democracy depends on who controls the information organs. The Gutenberg press in 1440 started a trend to undermine the information dominance of divine-right monarchs and clergy and usher in a world of democratic totalitarianism in which the newspaper organised everyone (acting in the required direction).

The internet is simply a natural evolution of the Gutenberg press. Mrs May's attempt is futile, but at least it's comprehensible and rational from a perspective of power. She knows the internet is undermining democracy itself.

But anonymity is a feature of the internet, not a bug. It will never be expunged. So the next best tactic is to equate the use of free speech with Nazis. People have been trained well enough not to miss the significance of this. Everyone learns at school, written and directed by progressive true-believers, that fascism is the embodiment of evil. Not necessarily because Nazism was uniquely horrifying but because fascist democracy is a direct competitor to progressive democracy. Rule number one for rulers: crush your enemies.

So today, anyone who defends free speech is considered a threat to the progressive regime and must be silenced. The ring of power called "free speech" wielded by the progressives to undermine their historical enemies.

But as Tolkien predicted, the problem with forging rings of power is they tend to slip from one's finger. While it's tempting to organise special powers to benefit a cause, no one can be in power forever. And the modern state is a virtual jewellery shop. The progressives didn't learn Tolkien's lesson: the thing to do with power is to destroy it, not wield it. And now their enemies have the ring.

The revolutionaries started out with a righteous goal of changing the status quo to be more equitable. Weapons were assembled and rings were forged. But they didn't want change, only power, just like any hominid. They were tricked by their own greed. And all their supporters believed real change was coming, only to find themselves back under subjugation by new rulers.

Yet the internet has exploded a white hot ball of power into a million pieces. Those who can scrape up a piece will never have to scrape again. Where once freedom of speech was a weapon to achieve victory, it is now a threat to that victory. The progressives have no one else to blame but themselves. They threw away their ring as they climbed onto the throne.

“And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth. And for two and a half thousand years, the ring passed out of all knowledge,” warned Galadriel.

Now it has been found.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Donald Trump, climate science is not the science you're looking for

Theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss spoke in Auckland recently. He gave an hour-long sermon drawn from the "Doomsday Clock" document published by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, of which he is a sponsor and chairman.

I think it's fair to say Dr Krauss doesn’t like US President Donald Trump. It's not clear if the feeling is mutual, but the scientist probably appreciates the 45th President even less after this week. Climate change is high on Dr Krauss' list of deadly, dangerous and downright dynamic developing disasters dooming Donald’s domain.

I didn’t watch Mr Trump abandon the Paris Agreement on television, but I hear the speech was mostly good with some small inaccuracies, notably about how staying in the agreement would only reduce global temperatures by two-tenths of one degree Celsius. It’s actually more like a six-tenths of one degree by 2100, for a cost of $100 trillion. That’s trillion, with a “T.” And only if everyone in the agreement sticks to it.


Mr Trump's little temperature hiccup is a pity because when you stand up against the Machine one needs to be right all the time, not just most of the time. According to Dr Krauss, the science is in. And his Bulletin editor-in-chief John Mecklin agrees “the science is clear” saying “Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change has no basis in fact.”

But none of this squabbling helps to see what's actually gone wrong. To do that, we need to split three things apart: the science, the politics in Washington and the international politics. Of course, the mere need to split these three indicates that they are, in normal circumstances, very much joined. Which should raise red flags.

International politics is downstream from Washington politics, which in turn is informed by academics. To scientists, Mr Trump isn’t simply acting politically he is directly countermanding their authority. But who are they? By what means did they achieve positions of authority? It certainly wasn't democracy. And do their disciplines use the wonderful error-correcting quality of Popperian science? Or has this been, in some way, neutralised or bypassed? Was it never there in the first place? These are good questions.

The problem, as I see it, is twofold. First, empirical evidence is not experimental evidence. Nature is not a controlled experiment. For the perils of uncontrolled experiments, see Richard Feynman. It's also worth pausing to consider that the Lysenkoists also called their work "science."

Unless one adopts a tautology -- in which science does not include pseudoscience -- "science" is whatever the people who practice and organise it say it is. More specifically, since pretty much all "science" is funded by the government, the working definition of "science" tends to wash out as "whatever my government decides to fund and calls science." No, I don't like this either.

This all boils down to the circular statement that climatology can't possibly be pseudoscience because it's funded by the US Government. And Washington (unlike Moscow) would never fund pseudoscience. This is a rather broken epistemology, to say the least.

Do I have it right? If not, where's the error? If so, what information do you have about the US Government that justifies trust? And if Washington isn't to be trusted, what institution is? The IPCC? What makes you trust those humans instead? If the field of climate science as we see it today was not scientific, but rather pseudoscientific, how would you know? And who would you expect to step in and shut it down? Again, all good questions.

Imagine if we had a couple of toy Earths to experiment with. Scientists could isolate all the variables and set different CO2 concentrations on otherwise identical planets. Compared to the results of those experiments, climate science's present "empirical" evidence looks pretty lame, I think. In fact, anyone who could perform such a controlled experiment, but chose not to, and instead relied on the natural experiment of driving our SUVs while maintaining full employment of an enormous contingent of climate scientists, would be immediately, and quite accurately, described as a pseudoscientist.

Second, most people criticising Mr Trump appear to be misinformed about the nature of science. They are under the impression that scientists are motivated by curiosity and the pursuit of truth. This has never entirely been the case, but perhaps they used to be motivated by such things before we decided scientists should have money and power. Or, more accurately, before we decided that science should be part of the State.

The problem is not just government funding. The problem is the triangular relationship between granting agencies, scientists and the press.

A good rule of thumb is that anyone whose name appears regularly in the media is a media prostitute. Think of all the scientists whose names you know because you see them in newspapers. I'm sure they're all good people doing wonderful work. But they are all prostitutes. Including Dr Krauss.

To the vast majority of scientists, far more than journals (because no one reads those anyway) they deeply desire their work to be published in the most powerful journal in the world: the New York Times. This makes perfect sense because all power flows upward. Also, those granting agencies are organs not just of the State, but of the political system. They have to fight like hell to get their cash. There is never enough money to go around. So in this system, funding is directly proportional to the quantity of headline space their prostitutes can score. If it wasn't so insidious, I'd be impressed.

Journalists, in turn, can't get enough. And why wouldn't they? They are the controllers of the universe. They stick out their fingers and they alone go bang. Who cares if the average science reporter has only an undergraduate degree? Has the average business reporter ever worked for a real business? Has the average war reporter ever fought in a war? Would these reporters suddenly be "objective" if they had done these things? Ignorance, as usual, turns out to be wisdom.

And just as there is never enough money to go around, there are never enough stories. Climate change is marvellous because it generates a permanent stream of content-free, but not quite monotonous, press. Observant scientists figured out long ago that finding a way to work "climate change" into any kind of research almost guarantees their chances of getting funded. So, of course, climate change appears everywhere (I thought it was the whisky keeping me up at night...).

Obviously, climate change is not the cutting edge of science. The cutting edge of science doesn't look like such a joke. That's because those scientists know what they're doing. Sure, there’s plenty of "empirical evidence" for climate change. But it is also all generated by researchers who are operating under the same set of incentives that brought us "Global Warming Could be Reversing a Trend that Led to Bigger Human Brains," which led to this insanity and therefore became true. An entirely predictable result.

The whole system is one giant conflict of interest. The only effect of the Paris Agreement appears to be to tax everyone and create more jobs for the scholar caste. It should not at all be surprising this caste has lifted climate change to such a glorious quasitheological status. My only worry is if the word "science" remains nested with Official Truth for much longer, it may have to be discarded. Then we’ll really see some power games.

I can't see any systematic fix for this. There’s far too much money to be made. The climate change industry is an academic fraud of mind-boggling proportions, so "solving" it is the last thing anyone wants to do.

But no matter what, I think it's simply unhealthy for scientists to take money from anyone who has an interest in steering their results. And that includes the State. In fact, it goes double, triple and quadruple for the State - which is not, contrary to popular belief, endowed with divine powers.

Scientists appear not to have applied their considerable critical energies to the problem of drawing the line between science and "science." How much of what we see as science, rather than "science," is the product of uncontrolled experiments or subjective judgments? And what would happen to Dr Krauss’ worldview if we shove it back over the line?

Friday, 2 June 2017

Is 'hacking back' really dangerous, or is something else going on

US Representative Tom Graves has a bill that would allow hacking victims to use defensive measures to strike back at their attackers. Called the Active Cyber Defense Certainty Act - which would alter the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act - the measure lets individuals and companies use defensive measures beyond their own network to identify, and potentially stop, assailants. The practice is commonly known as "hacking back."

However, US Cyber Command chief Admiral Mike Rogers warned lawmakers against passing such legislation, saying cyber-experts think hacking back will have unintended, dangerous consequences and create even more confusion about who's behind certain digital assaults.

"My concern is be leery of putting more gunfighters out on the street in the Wild West," Adm. Rogers told a House Armed Services subcommittee.

Adm. Rogers isn't the only one sceptical. Everyone seems to think there’s no way this would work. If you fire back, you might be hitting an old granny's computer in Thailand or something. Blah blah blah.

I can’t help being sceptical. Like, I get the technical realities and the criticism is probably real. But I know a turf war when I see it. The US government invented the internet and it got out of hand. Businesses took it away, tinkered with it, and now they won’t give it back. Governments are slowly realising the future of the world will be online, and they’ve effectively been locked out. Everyone bashes the NSA for “spying,” but almost no one worries about companies doing dodgy stuff with your info.

The only difference is people have a reason to be suspicious of governments, but not many philosophical reasons to be suspicious of industry. And the online companies such as Facebook and Google also have direct commercial access to the online news machine. They can bump up or down any story they want. So, of course, the NSA looks like the bad guy and Google looks like a saviour.

And to be honest, the threat of firing back and hitting an “innocent party” isn’t necessarily a limitation. We even have a name for it in the real world: collateral damage. Creating order is dangerous. The entirety of human history suggests it’s impossible to guarantee safety in times of chaos, and we definitely are in a period of chaos online right now. Furthermore, the threat of hitting an innocent party might actually force companies to take cyber-security seriously as it’ll be their bottom line at risk.

Besides, how bad can a misfire-back really be? It’s not like we’re shooting rifles or missiles. Who cares if someone’s computer goes down for a few hours or is taken offline permanently. Insurance can buy more computers. No one’s gonna die. And even if hospitals might be at risk, who said they needed to be online anyway

The biggest danger -- and this is where it really gets interesting -- is creating a scenario in which people decide that all this online stuff is too much of a hassle. Too much risk. The cyber criminals are a pain, but now everyone is actively defending themselves with cyber guns. Woah, slow down there DeadEye Jones. All anyone wants to do is send remittances to family in Tonga or sell a car on TradeMe or play a computer game or chat with a loved one in Spain.

But it all becomes too hard with the constant updates and downtime from attacks. So they log off. They choose to roll back the clock and use other forms of commerce, maybe not dark age methods, but certainly not 21st-century options. You can feel the system tremble even thinking about this. Or worse, someone decides to create a parallel internet so they don’t have these problems -- or at least fewer problems. Perhaps the alternative is an internet based on nation-state borders, as Russia and China are talking about implementing. Even the US Defense Department is discussing, and probably has already started building, a new internet for classified networks using all the lessons of the old internet. The internet is global, but it doesn’t have to be. That’s just the way it is now.

Suddenly, all that effort and money and capital spent to construct the online is wasted. Most of that money is illusory anyway. It’s not like it will just shift between people. Once you take it off the rich people and move it around, poof, it vanishes.

I think that’s the major threat here. It’s why neither governments nor companies are taking cyber-security seriously. The moment they tighten the screws, it becomes less of a global commons and more of a rigid, regulated system in which even the simplest tasks are tough and, quite frankly, not worth doing. After all, the consumer system doesn’t see you as a person, it sees you as a battery. The only thing you’re good for is producing and consuming. This system cannot be set at risk, there is too much money at stake. It will fight fiercely to avoid even approaching this outcome.

The system will even convince us that “the online world is inherently unstable and risky, and you just have to get used to all the cyber-threats.” Hmm, where have I heard that before? Oh yeah, the French prime minister Macron recently described terrorism as an “imponderable problem” which will be “part of our daily lives for the years to come.” He isn’t the only one. This logic is common with elites.

Maybe it’s just the way I am, but it all smells like power. Philip Bobbitt talks about this as a transition from the nation-state – in which it’s the government’s job to facilitate business, but to be in overall control – to a new form called the market state – in which the government’s job is to maximise business, and as a consequence forgo much of its power to the new global businesses. He sees this as a natural transition and doesn’t apply any ethical attributes to it. You don't have to look very hard to see this playing out vociferously in the online world.