Tactical Linguistics Research Institute

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New World Order for Fun and Profit

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The Martial Lord of Wei asked one of his ministers what had caused the destruction of a certain nation-state. The minister said, “Repeated victories in repeated wars.”

The Martial Lord said, “A nation is fortunate to win repeated victories in repeated wars. Why would that cause its destruction?”

The minister said, “Where there are repeated wars, the people are weakened; when they score repeated victories, rulers become haughty. Let haughty rulers command weakened people, and rare is the nation that will not perish as a result.”

— Masters of Huainan (ca. 200 BCE)

What Just Happened?

Although many American voters feel alarmed and disoriented by Donald Trump’s rise to power, this is nevertheless the direct, causal result of millions of Americans pretending that Democrats are an opposition party over the last 30 years.  Unfortunately, for these naive souls, the real difference between Democrats and Republicans is that Republicans are delusional while Democrats are in denial.

At present, Barack Obama and other prominent Democrats are blaming Russia for manipulating the election, which is pure propaganda. Russia probably manipulates every election.  Russia, China, and others probably do too — just like we routinely interfere with theirs.

The real issue is both more nuanced and more troubling.  In Wisconsin, for example, less than 1% of the vote separated Clinton from Trump. For comparison, in Florida after the 2000 election, a similarly narrow result triggered a recount by statute.

When one looks at what factors constitute that 1% of the vote in Wisconsin, however, the role of Russian involvement is not the decisive factor (though it may be a bit of a wildcard).  Rather, a number of pervasive influences within American society amount to a far more profound influence:

1) Systematic black disenfranchisement due to Reagan-era federal sentencing guidelines (2.2 million voters nationally)

2) Systematic disenfranchisement through Voter ID laws (coordinated among statehouses through think tanks like ALEC)

3) Closed-source electronic voting machines with proprietary code that behave anomalously but can’t be audited

4) Rampant gerrymandering

5) Campaign strategies that game the electoral college (Clinton won the 2016 popular vote, just like Gore won the 2000 popular vote against Bush)

6) Citizens United Supreme Court ruling overturning campaign finance reform, opening a floodgate of un-traceable political manipulation

7) Sporadic election fraud by officials like Kathy Nickolaus in Waukesha

Of course, Barack Obama — in blaming Russia — cannot call attention to these issues, because it undermines the validity of the very system from which he derives his power, influence, prestige, identity.

This was the same reason Al Gore couldn’t call for protests in the street after the 2000 election: he’s part of the system and therefore needs to help preserve it.  So now, instead of solutions, we get propaganda from the left in addition to the right.

What Does it Mean?

Historian Robert Paxton has analyzed historical fascist movements, and has discerned five distinct stages along the way to fascism:

1. Development of the ideology
2. Ideology takes root
3. Ideology gains power
4. Ideology exercises power
5. Open society overtaken by entropy or becomes a police state

In Paxton’s analysis, the proto-fascist disillusionment with popular democracy begins in the rural around a rhetoric of renewal. The Greek Golden Dawn party, with seats amounting to about 10% of the European parliament, holds the phoenix as the emblem of their movement.

Popular with past Greek fascist movements, the symbol of the phoenix — which rises reborn from its own ashes — resonates with Trump’s promise to “make america great again.”

After a fascist ideology takes hold, traditional conservative elite adopt the rhetoric of the rural brownshirts to stave off a resurgent progressive movement. Which is to say: Hitler used the brownshirts but did not create them, just like the Republican Tea Party took advantage of American right wing militants.

Once the traditional conservatives regain power, the brownshirts become emboldened to act.  This historically has often taken the form of attacks on farmers.  It may seem appealing to suppose — given the current state of race relations in the United States and the animosity suffered between rural and urban areas — that a modern equivalent of this step may consist in right wing militants squaring off with disaffected black inner-city youth (who figure they have nothing to lose, since they’ll be dead or in jail by the time they’re 20 years old).  However, for all the problems with policing, it is unlikely that many police would sit by idly while white militants pick off black folks indiscriminately.  Moreover, rural folks are often afraid of the city, making such a scenario less likely.

While the rural folks are afraid of the city, however, they’re not afraid of Mexican migrant farmers with no rights. They’ll be the canary in the coal mine, or the sacrificial lamb, for the same reason a john beats up a hooker: she can’t take it to the cops.

Once the traditional conservative elements try to restore order in the face of quasi-sanctioned vigilantism, two general outcomes typically result: entropy, or a police state.

Since Bill Clinton put the wiretaps in place, Bush switched them on, and Obama made it legal to use them, we would seem to have a pretty comprehensive system of repression in place already.

What’s Next?

The panopticon principle makes it pretty clear that surveillance is not some passive proposition, but an active system of control. If you CAN be monitored at any time, but NEVER know exactly when, it is in your interest to behave at ALL times as though you ARE being monitored.

Foucault summarized Bentham’s insight:

“Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power…
“So… that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers.”
— Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 1975

The surveillance society depicted in George Orwell’s novel 1984 is built along these precise lines:

“There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to.”

“You had to live–did live, from habit that became instinct–in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”

— George Orwell, 1984 (1949)

The social deviance of 1984’s protagonist Winston Smith is eventually arrested through police entrapment, not through the efficacy of the surveillance infrastructure.  Smith wanders into a forbidden part of town and rents a room from an undercover cop to use as a love nest.

In our world, these forces are already being brought to bear on the American population.  What’s needed first is a sober recognition of these realities.

Those who would organize an opposition should not do so over social media.  Use of the element of surprise is a rudimentary component of any strategy — which would-be organizers surrender without fight when organizing on a wiretap.

Those who would organize an opposition should not report their activities on social media.  The types of information gained through the elaborate system of hundreds of thousands of spies and informers utilized by the East German state is routinely handed over voluntarily today on FaceBook.  The East German state maintain control by exploiting personal information, and our system is not likely to be much different.

Cellphones are tracking devices.  Even with GPS off, they are in constant communication with cell towers.  The slight time differential between when a phone’s signal is picked up ad multiple nearby towers can be used to precisely locate any such mobile device.

The walls have ears.  Cellphones speak and understand English now.  Past movements — the labor movement, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement — succeeded without social media.  An opposition movement that has any chance of success today will be no different in that regard.

 

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Written by Indigo Jones

January 25, 2017 at 7:45 pm

The Intellectual Poverty of Modern Libertarianism

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Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul has assumed the mantle of modern crusader for the Libertarian cause.

His campaign website claims: “Dr. Paul is the leading spokesman in Washington for limited constitutional government, low taxes, free markets, and a return to sound monetary policies based on commodity-backed currency.”

The modern Libertarian position, however, has a number of striking shortcomings that become even more pronounced when situated within the historical context that gave rise to the political philosophy of Libertarianism.

Limited Constitutional Government

While it is true that the scope of the US government has expanded over time, this isn’t an inherently negative thing.  During George Washington’s Administration, 80% of the federal budget was dedicated to Indian eradication.  In this sense, national security is the oldest subsidy program in US history; at the same time, it’s encouraging to consider that the government has largely abandoned systematic genocide and, throughout the Progressive era, dedicated itself to ways of promoting “the general welfare” and creating “a more perfect union” by extending voting rights to women and blacks.

Moreover, there is little historical evidence to suppose that the US government was originally meant to be limited in scope.  This may be a Jeffersonian ideal, but is just that: idealism.  Insofar as it is believed as historical fact today, it represents a form of popular mythology.

In the Federalist #14, James Madison wrote:

“If Europe has the merit of discovering this great mechanical power in government, by the simple agency of which the will of the largest political body may be concentrated, and its force directed to any object which the public good requires, America can claim the merit of making the discovery the basis of unmixed and extensive republics. It is only to be lamented that any of her citizens should wish to deprive her of the additional merit of displaying its full efficacy in the establishment of the comprehensive system now under her consideration … Let it be remarked … that the intercourse throughout the Union will be facilitated by new improvements. Roads will everywhere be shortened, and kept in better order; accommodations for travelers will be multiplied and meliorated; an interior navigation on our eastern side will be opened throughout, or nearly throughout, the whole extent of the thirteen States. The communication between the Western and Atlantic districts, and between different parts of each, will be rendered more and more easy by those numerous canals with which the beneficence of nature has intersected our country, and which art finds it so little difficult to connect and complete.”

The framers planned on territorial, technological, and infrastructure expansionism from the outset.

In the Federalist #10, Madison concluded:

“The question resulting is, whether small or extensive republics are more favorable to the election of proper guardians of the public weal; and it is clearly decided in favor of the latter.”

Low Taxes

The vehement support of low taxes among modern Libertarians is predicated on the assumption that this is money taken away from citizens.  This is short-sighted in the extreme.  When the government takes in money in taxes, it spends it.  Corporations and wealthy CEO’s, on the other hand, do take money out of circulation.  They put their surplus profits in banks, so banks can turn around and create more money through the fractional reserve system, which leads to inflation, which harms typical workers who have seen wages stagnate even as worker productivity has steadily increased.  But corporations and wealthy individuals who invest their money aren’t spending it; they aren’t contributing to the “real economy” the way government does when it allocates revenues.

graph of worker compensation compared to growth in productivity

Citizens benefit from government spending.  The west was not won by strong individualists in combat with the wilderness; the west was won through government subsidies promoting the expansion of railroads, the telegraph, and through land grants.  The westward expansion was the government-subsidized expansion of new technology.

By GDP, one third of government spending is dedicated to the armed forces.  This is a continuation of our oldest subsidy program: national security.  Since World War II, the permanent war economy has required a certain type of economic growth; during the Cold War, this took the form of planned obsolescence, which served the function of battlefield attrition in the context of a war without fighting.  A large military provides important technological subsidies that the economics of growth capitalism require.

Free Markets

This is perhaps among the most pernicious of myths propagated by modern Libertarianism.    By GDP, business accounts for about 75% of US economic activity.  Yet entrepreneurialism accounts for only 1/7 of that.  That means most economic activity in the US is on the scale of industry.

Industrial scale commerce is characterized by organizational prowess, not entrepreneurial initiative. Most of what the industrial firm calls planning is precisely the elimination of market forces: Sony sells Playstations at a loss to undermine competition; Microsoft was fined $2 billion by European regulators for operating in open violation of EU trade laws over the course of a decade. If such tactics fail, an industrial firm will buy its competition outright. Buying firms is also a way for the industrial firm to enter a new market. From the perspective of the industrial firm, acquisitions assume the role of innovation, which is otherwise impossible where planning foresees outcomes. There is only competition where outcomes are uncertain: that is what a competition is. Entering a market a new by purchasing a successful firm is anti-competitive; but shareholders want a predictable return on their investment, so investors favor industrial planning over entrepreneurial initiative.

The modern industrial system is characterized not by competition, but by oligopoly. In a given market, you have one choice of cable provider. Intel makes 85% of the CPUs sold in computers today. 90% of the soy grown in the US is Monsanto Roundup Ready.  ADM processes 50% of domestic corn ethanol.  These are not isolated examples.  General electric makes NBC sitcoms and nuclear weapons: the intuitions of the entrepreneur have about as much validity with respect to industry as observations about a piggy bank have with respect to the fractional reserve system.

Despite the rhetoric of free markets, most economic activity in the US is the result of industrial-scale economic planning.

There is no free market where there is no competition; in industry, there is little meaningful competition.  The price system only works if producers have no control over pricing; under oligopoly, it is precisely producers rather than consumers that determine prices.

The era of entrepreneurial capitalism vanished in the 19th Century, eclipsed by monopoly capitalism and again by the permanent war economy.  There’s no going back, unless you’re willing to do without industry.  Even the entrepreneur is a tool of industry: a purchaser of computers, media, manufactured furniture; independent retailers sell industrial goods.

The very notion of a free market is antiquated idealism.

Sound Monetary Policies

While there is plenty to criticize about fractional reserve banking, a return to a commodity based currency like the gold standard is not a viable solution.  The value of a currency tied to the price of gold can easily be manipulated by wealthy individuals or organizations hoarding the available supply, leveraging scarcity to their advantage.

Where fractional reserve banking creates opportunities for abuse, the solution is increased government regulation which puts limits on how much money banks are able to create, and under what circumstances.

Practical Issues

In their efforts to dismantle the public sector, modern Libertarians overlook several important key points.

First off, the effort to privatize government services on the assumption that markets are more efficient neglects to consider that markets are more importantly characterized by competition. Do we really want competition for what rights we are guaranteed? Isn’t this at odds with the very concept of the Bill of Rights as representing “inalienable” rights? If a competition is fair, its outcome is unpredictable: market mechanisms are therefore a poor way to guarantee rights.

Second, in an industrial economy, a large public sector is essential to ensuring aggregate demand. An important feature of the public sector is that employees are neither rewarded in good times nor penalized in hard times; this allows industry to plan effectively.

Third, modern libertarians are in agreement with Demcorats, Republicans, and industrialists generally in assuming that a certain type of growth capitalism is good. This, however, requires enormous subsidies and a large source of aggregate demand.  The demands of growth capitalism also overlook the fact that we live on a planet with finite resources, and we cannot grow indefinitely.

Fourth, modern libertarians obsess about government intervention as a source of market distortion, but never mention oligopoly.  Firms like Microsoft routinely engage in anti-competitive business practices in the US and abroad. They treated this as just another business expense on the road to market domination.  Oligopoly does far more to distort markets than typical government regulatory activity.
Philosophical Issues

Modern Libertarians might be right that our current government is a problem, but they have the wrong diagnosis and consequently the wrong prescription. They would never cite rising divorce rates as evidence that the institution of marriage should be abolished, but this is just the approach they take to government. They inadequately identify the specific dynamics that have lead our government to become so grossly dysfunctional.

Debates about too much to too little regulation miss the historical context in which our government was instituted: the Lockean tradition, which was largely concerned with property, held property as subject to regulation by the state.  “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” is a repurposing of Locke’s “life, liberty, and property.” In his Second Treatise on Civil Government, Locke wrote:

(se. 120) “it would be a direct contradiction, for any one to enter into society with others for the securing and regulating of property; and yet to suppose his land, whose property is to be regulated by the laws of the society, should be exempt from the jurisdiction of that government, to which he himself, the proprietor of the land, is a subject.”

Furthermore, Friedrich Hayek‘s “free market” program, spelled out in The Road to Serfdom (in which he also voiced opposition to laissez-faire capitalism), is quite compatible with a public health care system. After noting that “The functioning of a competition not only requires adequate organization of certain institutions like money, markets, and channels of information — some of which can never be adequately provided by private enterprise” (38) he asserts that “there can be no doubt that some minimum of food, shelter, and clothing, sufficient to preserve health and the capacity to work, can be assured to everybody” (120).

He continues:

“Nor is there any reason why the state should not assist the individuals in providing for the common hazards of life against which, because of their uncertainty, few individuals can make adequate provision. Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance — where, in short, we deal with genuinely insurable risks — the case for the state’s helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong” (121).

The Intellectual Poverty of Modern Libertarianism

The rhetoric that modern Libertarian thought borrows from classical anarchism neatly ignores the economic equality imperative that anarchists considered to be inseparable from absolute individualism.  Modern Libertarianism also glosses over the bitter disputes between Marxists and anarchists: there is a tendency to view Communism as monolithic and as opposed to pure Capitalism; yet anarchism represents a third position, opposed to both Capitalism and Communism.  Under the anarchist critique, for example, Communist China can be seen exactly for what it is: not a Communist enterprise in any substantive sense, but rather, as a variety of state capitalism.

Written by Indigo Jones

January 15, 2012 at 5:39 pm

Follow the Leader: There is Opportunity in Disaster

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Although many elected officials lay claim to the title of “leader,” it is becoming increasingly self-evident that such a title only applies insofar as they are leading us off a cliff.  It is profoundly problematic that the media unquestioningly reinforces such baseless claims to leadership by routinely using so inappropriate a term to describe these officials.

While various “leaders” may market themselves as catalysts for social change, and seek to secure the confidence of voters who also seek social change, a change in “leadership” rarely brings about the promised social changes.  Not only is electoral politics first and foremost a means of legitimating those very power structures voters would seek to change, but belief in leadership is furthermore a tool to enforce conformity among voters, since following leaders is a form of conformity.  Conformists don’t bring about social change.

That few officials, out of humility, demure that they are not “leaders” but, rather, public servants, offers an important glimpse into a profoundly disturbing dynamic underlying the facade of “politics as usual.”

Many politicians are literally sociopaths. Compare the behavioral profile of the sociopath with the actions and attitudes of the typical politician: sociopaths don’t have normal moral reservations about manipulating people like objects; this is precisely how politicians get elected. Sociopaths understand little about human emotion beyond ego gratification; the prestige of high office satisfies this desire for the politician. Sociopaths wear a facade of normalcy and are often charming, but lie compulsively. Politicians speak in polite terms while plotting to stab their colleagues in the back. If they’re not telling outright lies, they’re “spinning” facts to suit their needs. Sociopaths don’t feel guilt or remorse or empathy; no US official to date has apologized for invading Iraq on false pretenses, turning five million Iraqi’s into refugees, pumping Fallujah full of depleted uranium, or engaging in torture.  Nobody in government has publicly investigated the Bush Administration’s use of torture or civil liberties violations. Sociopaths are glib, superficial, impulsive; their goal is the creation of a dependent, willing victim.  Elected office is the ideal job description for a sociopath.  The desire to attain office should disqualify a person from holding such a position.

The term “sociopath” is imprecise.  Often, “sociopath” is used interchangeably with “psychopath,” whereas other times, “psychopath” is used to designate a genetic predisposition, and “sociopath” a set of learned behaviors.  Either way, the prevalence of this sort of anti-social personality disorder among the general population is estimated at between 1-4%.

It may not be a coincidence that 1% of the population controls some 40% of the wealth in the US, and that the top 5% controls close to 70% of the wealth.   Competitive society is in many ways optimized to benefit those who exhibit sociopathic personality traits, and it reinforces sociopathic tendencies among the general population as a behavioral adaptation.

In competitive society, people are trained by sociopaths to think like sociopaths.  The public relations and marketing firms employed by both commercial and political interests train people to be opportunistic and calculating, to always be on the lookout for ways to treat other people as means that can be manipulated to various ends.  People are taught to be individualistic and egocentric rather than compassionate and cooperative.  Much of the advertising with which individuals are daily inundated promotes impulsive behavior and acculturates individuals to the distortions of reality that characterize most advertising and marketing.  As young people are brought into the fold, they become adults who are active participants in this process of training others to think like sociopaths — to think in the terms expounded by commercial marketers and political spin doctors — to such an extent that genuinely different worldviews become completely incoherent, in virtue of a sociopathic lack of empathy.

Beyond accommodating the lies and distortions that characterize so much advertising, marketing, and political posturing, individuals are, in numerous other ways, trained to think like sociopaths.  The aesthetic appreciation of violence in films, TV, and video games is an obvious example; a less obvious example is the popularity of “funniest home video” programs.

While slapstick comedy may be the cultural context in which “funniest home video” programs are appreciated, these programs contain none of the observational humor or physical ingenuity that characterize most slapstick.  The “funniest home video” programs are not, in any substantive terms, the products of creativity or skill.  They harvest moments of trauma from among the general population, and, in terms of their presentation, they train audiences to override natural empathy responses and to find humor in the misfortune of others.

Without an awareness of these dynamics, little can be done about them.  It is hard to criticize or correct a social trend without being able to even name it.  But such contemporary developments as the imposition of “austerity measures” or the renewed effort to disrupt labor organization and revoke “collective bargaining rights” can be understood in a precise historical context; to the extent that ordinary citizens support such measures, these citizens are being manipulated by criminal sociopaths.

In The Second Treatise on Civil Government, John Locke wrote, “he that in the state of society would take away the freedom belonging to those in that society or commonwealth must be supposed to design or take away from them everything else, and so be looked on as in a state of war” (¶19).  John Locke is not some fringe figure; the Preamble to the US Constitution is more or less a summary of Locke’s basic ideas on legitimate authority.  What is happening today has happened before, has been studied, and named, and diagnosed already.  In the past, monarchs caused civil unrest; today it is powerful sociopaths who have rigged the game to serve their own ends, who create for themselves an aura of respectability, and thus wrest from citizens assent to a degenerate state of affairs.

Written by Indigo Jones

October 19, 2011 at 4:28 pm

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