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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Land bridge? We don't need no stinkin' land bridge!

Students in my American Indian literature class are required to make a brief presentation on a tribe that I assign them.  Among the questions I have them answer is this one:

Where does the tribe live today? Where did they live at the time of contact with Europeans?  If there is a difference in locations, tell me why the people moved.

This gives the students an opportunity to discuss the  forced relocations that some tribes endured, or the loss of land for those tribes that remain in or near their homelands.

Yet each semester I get one or two presentations that include information about American Indians migrating across a land bridge from Asia.  This is despite my specific instructions to NOT tell us about some ancient road trip through Sarah Palin's front yard.

Also, there is no way discussing that migration answers the question.  I do not ask about entire migration histories of the tribes; I ask about their location at the time of contact, which means the farthest anyone has to go back in history is 1492, and that is only for the group that presents on the Taino, the first people Columbus encountered on this side of the Atlantic.

Some of the earliest European accounts of Indians claimed they were cannibals.  If only they had been.   If the Taino had been hungry for human flesh instead of such amiable hosts, perhaps history would have turned out differently.  If they had eaten Columbus and his men, this hemisphere would have enjoyed a few more years free from decimating diseases, commercialized slavery, and uncomfortable shoes.

Recently, a student presentation included information on the land bridge.  When it was finished, I reminded students to ignore the land bridge.  Yet the very next week, a student presentation brought us back to the land bridge.  Like a bad penny or America's Got Talent, it would not go away.

Why is that?  Why is discussing something that might have happened tens of thousands of years ago so tempting to talk about?  Why is it so tempting to the students when, for our purposes, it is irrelevant?

Knowing about that ancient migration does not help us understand any particular group of people better.    The land bridge will not help us better understand Hopi, Creek, or Mohawk societies.  If we visited the home of a Navajo family, we would not find a map of Mongolia on the wall with the caption of "Home Sweet Home."

Besides, I tell the students, that is not the story those cultures tell about themselves. You can learn more about those cultures by listening to the stories they tell about their origins.  Pueblo groups, such as the Hopi, will tell you they came out of the ground on what is now called Mount Taylor in western New Mexico.  That is their creation story, and knowing it can teach you something about them.

Whether the creation story is true in a literal sense is not important.  The cultural truths they contain are useful.

Look at the creation story for the United States.  It is filled with mythologizing and untruths.  Most of the folks on the Mayflower were not pilgrims.  Most people were not coming here to "escape religious persecution." The ship was supposed to go to Virginia, and those on board had signed contracts to do so.  No one set foot on Plymouth Rock as they got out of the boat. And so on.  However, the story's lack of literal truths does not take away from its power. Knowing it can be useful for knowing things about American culture, about how American society has imagined itself and how it can be expected to behave.

I do not blame the students for being tempted to report on the land bridge.  (OK.  I do blame them for not reading the assignment instructions carefully.)  Many sources of information discuss the land bridge as if it were relevant.  Even the Associated Press Style Book still states that "American Indian" is preferred over "Native American" because "the ancestors of American Indians migrated from Asia."

Lucy, australopithecus afarensis
But why stop in Asia?  If the American Indians came from somewhere around Mongolia, why stop
there?  Where did the Mongolians come from?  And where did those ancestors come from?  Eventually, we all wind up together back in Africa's Olduvai Gorge with Grandma Lucy.

I found a National Geographic source that says the first Europeans migrated from Asia, too.  I doubt any student presentations on France or Germany start with that information.  Doing that would probably seem ridiculous to a student.  So why does it seem reasonable to do the same thing with a presentation on American Indian nations?

The answer that makes sense to me is this: The migration story appeals to the American conscience.  The land bridge theory supports a narrative that is important in American history and culture: America as virgin territory.

Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth is a foundational book for American Studies.  Published in 1950 by Henry Nash Smith, the book explores the myth that the continent was relatively empty of people, and those people who were here had left little mark upon it -- it was waiting for the Europeans to arrive and start changing things.  The notion of the land as virgin helps alleviate any guilty conscience the Europeans and then Americans might have had, since the degree to which the land was unoccupied was the result of the direct and indirect efforts of the newcomers to evict its residents.

Despite all of the evidence of successful and widespread agriculture by American Indians (the first pilgrims would have starved if the local tribes had not possessed surplus corn to feed them), Europeans and Americans insisted on thinking of all Indians as nomadic, as wandering hunters who made no permanent claim on the land.

In other words, the Indians were just passing through, so they were not being truly dispossessed of their land; therefore, there was nothing really wrong with taking it.

The land bridge story supports that larger, national narrative.  After all, the Indians were immigrants, too, just like the Europeans.  They were not native, as the Associated Press reminds us.  So the land was up for grabs.

Here we see a demonstration of the difference between fact and myth.

Is the land bridge migration true?  Perhaps.  Is it useful for understanding American Indian cultures?  No.

Is the virgin land story true?  No.  It is useful for understanding American culture? Most definitely.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Lawrence Auster, 1949-2013

Laura Wood has a brief eulogy.

Larry is gone and so is the country he was born in.  To complain of either would be as superfluous.  One pathology of our age is a childlike credulity in the magical efficacy of complaint.  Don't complain, build.  We have done well at complaining; so what?  What have we built?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The path to (dark) enlightenment

What is it like to be a Muslim?  "If a lion could talk, we could not understand him."  The truth is that a (genuine, not "moderate") Muslim (or Jew, Christian, Buddhist, Scientologist, etc), though unlike a lion he may speak perfectly good English, is someone who has grown up inside his faith and knows nothing else. You cannot understand him, because the only word he wants to use is "everything."

(I also except those, several of of whom I know, who grew up as rationalists but have made a rational decision to convert to orthodox religions, the mustier and more arbitrary the better - generally because the alternative more and more proclaims itself, per Chesterton, not nothing, still less Reason, but the Whore of Babylon in full professional attire.  To these friends, Babylon-worship, essentially idolatrous (and speaking to Maimonides' point that idol-worship is self-worship) seems unsatisfying for a grownup, but utterly unacceptable for his children.  But still - these people are not genuinely religious, though their kids will be.)

A genuinely Muslim Muslim cannot tell us anything about Islam, as the chick within the egg (even a talking chick) can tell us nothing about eggs.  The concept of "egg" is not meaningful for her - or to put it differently, it is equivalent to her concept of "universe."  Her universe is two inches in diameter and glows soft-white about half the time.  It's warm, well-nourished, and really rather pleasant.

And perhaps yet there is a point at which she realizes - in some obscure chick-language - "I am in an egg."  Her universe is not the universe.  It is just an egg.  What a pity, to live one's whole chicken life inside an impenetrable sphere, two inches in diameter!  To be... in fact... to be crushed, in fact, by the pressure of my own growing wings.  Already I can barely open my beak.  Why was I even born in this egg?  With wings and a beak?  Why, inside an egg, would I even need a beak?  But wait -

For there is one brief moment in which the chick can conceive the concept of an egg.  The moment before, egg is universe.  The moment after - egg is eggshell.

An eggshell is not an egg, nor will it ever be.  I'm sure everyone reading this was once a good 20th-century liberal.  Yet we find it a serious, even impossible, struggle, to explain the liberal mind.  What, this eggshell?  A millimeter thick?  Flattened with a footstep?  And missing its entire top, whence I dragged my scraggly ass out and sat shivering till my down dried off?  This, a universe?  My universe?  Elizabeth Bishop:
I said to myself: three days
and you'll be seven years old.
I was saying it to stop
the sensation of falling off
the round, turning world,
into cold, blue-black space.
But I felt: you are an I,
you are an Elizabeth,
you are one of them.
Why should you be one, too?
I scarcely dared to look
to see what it was I was.
As a small fortunate Internet miracle, you can see Charles Stross in precisely this evanescent moment - scarcely daring to look to see what it is he is:
Please don't deny that you are a believer in this revolutionary ideology — and it is revolutionary; so much so that Republican Democracy, Fascism, and Communism are just minor doctrinal disputes within it. It's okay to admit it here; I'm a supporter of this ideology, too. None of us are supporters of feudal monarchism; we're all the inheritors of the early Jacobins. Which makes us revolutionaries.

But it's important to understand that virtually the entire mainstream of political and social discourse today is radical and revolutionary by historical standards. (Hell, the concept of sociology itself is a construct of the revolutionary philosophers.) This is not an historically normative set of touchstone ideas to run a society on. We're swimming in the tidal wave set running by an underwater earthquake two centuries ago — and like fish that live their entire lives in water, we are unable to see our circumstances as the anomaly that they are, or to know whether it's all for the best.

And, as Oliver Cromwell put it, "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."
Indeed.  Unfortunately, it's one thing to "see what it is you are" three weeks after laying.  Or three days before seven.  Slightly different when you're pushing fifty.  But better late than never, eh?

Again, as survivors of this insane murderous cult (we can say one thing for the Jacobin of 2013 - none of his works has ever been released in human leather) that ate the planet, we all find ourselves wondering how to get our friends out of their eggs.  Our difficulty is that we do not understand eggs and have no memory of escaping from an egg - only from an eggshell.

While there is no easy answer, I can't help but think that this moment in which the chick sees the egg is an essential part of the solution.  The truth is that some will escape and some won't.  Probably, most won't.

But it seems almost inevitable that once anyone understands that he's inside an egg, his next step will be to figure out what his beak is for.  An egg is an eggshell.  The world outside it is kind of big and certainly scary.  How easy to fall off, into black, turning space!  And yet, it's pretty boring inside an eggshell...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Marriage equality is a family value

In art, song, poetry, fiction, and film, Family is perhaps the most common way for imagining membership in a group, including the nation.

Think of the Civil War in the United States and how it was described as being a war between
brothers, which was literally true at times. Think of the HBO series about World War II, Band of Brothers.

Think of Walt Whitman in Song of Myself claiming that all men and women "ever born" are his brothers and sisters.  Although his statement is made in relation to all humanity, the poem is most clearly about his nation; the brothers and sisters he describes in his epic poem are his fellow Americans.

In his book Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson considers the ways humans create nations through their imaginations. Nations are rather large groups of people, and often times those people do not have that many things in common.  One way of overcoming potential divisions is by imagining connections.  He writes that a nation "is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion."

Thinking of themselves in terms of a family allows a group of citizens to imagine they have a shared history and a shared future -- as do members of a family who have common ancestors and descendants.  For instance, a group of school children might have been born in a dozen different countries, but, now that they live in the United States, they are encouraged to think of George Washington as a type of shared father figure. 

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio)
Families and nationhood came to mind recently when Sen. Rob Portman ended his opposition to same-sex marriage after learning that his son was gay.  (And it is especially pertinent now that the Supreme Court is hearing arguments concerning legal definitions of marriage.)

My initial reaction to Portman's announcement was, "How convenient."

He changed his mind only after learning that a member of his family would be negatively impacted by a legal principle he had supported.  While I appreciate his new outlook, I am troubled by what this says about his old outlook -- and the outlook of many others who have not changed.

Although Portman has changed his perspective on same-sex marriage, the reason for his change may mean an earlier principle remains in place: a mindset that extends justice and compassion only to members of one's family and those who closely resemble one's family.

It is a principle that suggests: If you are different from me, I am not concerned with justice for you.  

I would prefer a sense of justice and compassion that extends to everyone, regardless of whether they look or act or think as I do.  In other words, I would prefer we treated all people in the country as if they already were part of the family.  Just as Portman wants justice and equality for his son, we should want the same for all of our "relatives" -- which is to say, "everyone."

When it comes to the rights and privileges of U.S. citizenship, we should ask not "What is right and wrong?" so much as we should ask "How would I want my brother or sister treated?  How would I want my son or daughter treated?"

In this sense, I wish Americans more thoroughly imagined themselves as members of the same family, people who can find ways to overcome their differences in order to preserve and honor their greater shared humanity.  I wish we had that kind of "family values," rather than the kind that are often used to justify the limitations of another person's rights or privileges.

+ + +

As an addendum, I would say that the notion of kinship is a powerful tool among Indian tribes in the United States and First Nations people in Canada.  To treat fellow citizens as family members is to seek resolutions to problems in a particular way.  In American democracy, we resolve problems with voting, and the majority rules; the system is built upon power and who possesses it.  The tribal conception of democracy is built more upon consensus; each party in a dispute should consider seriously what the other side wants or needs.  Both sides of a dispute should seek a resolution that keeps both parties healthy and fully engaged and invested in the community.  Like a family.

One articulation of this principle is frequently used by a university colleague of mine in American Indian Studies.  She signs off her correspondence with a phrase in Lakota: Mitakuye Oyasin.  It can be translated as "We are all related." 

I realize this is an ideal.  Many disputes within tribes can get very ugly, and people can behave according to their power or desires rather than their responsibilities to each other.  But that ideal relationship -- citizenship as kinship -- can be a powerful tool.  Perhaps it is a tool powerful enough to remedy our nation's political and cultural paralysis.

Monday, March 25, 2013


主要是将Sarkar的SRT△、Brahma Cakra(BC宇宙循环演化)给予几何化,并建立了宇宙网格的原初模型,利用这个原初的宇宙网格模型解释了Sarkar关于宇宙意识密度与创造显现的关系。
就个体而言,我们的存在是因为宇宙意识密度稀疏下经由BC演化的结果,所以宇宙意识密度最稀疏之时便是物质世界形成之时,这在BC便是物质点(宇宙学称之为α始点,物质点之相对为至上点)。从波动观点来看,这就如同说"精神意识是最高阶的物质,物质是最低阶的精神意识",而心灵是它的动态调和。然而宇宙意识密度最低时的物质点,却是个体意识密度最高之处,并具体呈现为个体太极。这个物质点亦即心物共同基本元素mv microvita,从物质五大的观点来说被表示为最精细之"空"元素,心灵与真空互相遍在,他们是一体的,就这个层次来说这是宇宙心灵。


"注释解法"是指Ananda Mitra《阿南达经注释》一书中的解法。

































从这个拓扑观点下被视为是五个正多面体之外的第六个正多面体的所谓正七面体,它的二维正投影是正三角形及其三条中垂线交会的重心,如同正四面体正投影交会处出中心(三顶角平分线交会于中心,正三角形中心、重心同一点),那么就二维观点而言,这个所谓的正七面体其意义类似正四面体,所谓类似是说它们代表了相对的高低维(四维与三维空间的交会点,即平面投影上的那个重心与中心,这个点并非是数学意义上零维的点而是呈现为三维空间的基本单位的普朗克尺度所描述的那个状态,这也就是mv microvita 微生命,对我们三维空间或四维时空的存在而言,它被视为是心物的共同基本元素,几何表述为与八卦相应的太极merkaba或与麦特塔隆立体的概念相应的柏拉图立体嵌套太极merkaba)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Two words for Tyler Cowen and Ilya Somin

The words are ultra vires.  If these effulgent benefactors of humanity at large had received an ordinary 19th-century legal education, they'd already know them.

After USG is finally razed to the ground, the entire Potomac watershed from Vienna to Gaithersburg restored to pristine pre-Columbian conditions, and North America governed by a couple of smart, hard-working guys and a secretary out of a cozy little office in St. Louis, smart high-school kids will still need to be taught about this monster and why we slew it.

When did the contract that was the Constitution become null and void?  Obviously, any contract, once breached, is void - another truth you'd learn in an ordinary 19th-century legal education.  In fact the reality is that a constitution cannot be a contract, for a contract requires an enforcing agency superior to both parties.  Were we still in love with Lockean political theory, we might say that the Sovereign People was the enforcing party and resumed the powers they had contracted away.  But Lockean political theory went into the Potomac with the Washington Monument and now provides a habitat only to the rapidly rebounding and perennially delicious Chesapeake blue crab.

Given that America's Sovereign People, if truly sovereign, took a sweet two centuries and change in asserting that sovereignty, there are as many answers to the question as there were GS-15s in Bethesda.  But we can still evaluate this Constitution as a supposed contract, and at least count the fistulae where Washington nailed it once too often in the tail.  Moreover, since smart high-school kids love compelling simplicities, we can pick one main hole or cloaca maxima, and select it arbitrarily as the orifice through which this national bowel, so often violated beyond nature's nightmare, finally prolapsed beyond repair and tangled permanently round our combat boots.

What is the charge?  The main charge?  The main charge, I assert, is that USG post 1945 breached the Constitution irreparably by operating ultra vires as a world government.

The so-called "international" agencies of this period, like the risible "United Nations," were established by USG and creatures of it.  In fact rather than name, they were merely new tentacles of the State Department, not bound by the archaic restriction to employ only American citizens.  USG's "withdrawal" from the UN was like Russia's "withdrawal" from the Warsaw Pact.  This institution of socialist brotherhood did not mope in exile pining for its founding big brother - but simply ceased to exist.  Obviously.  I mean, obviously in retrospect.

Even what we called our "friends" and "allies" in this "international community" turned out to be no such thing, but rather despicable puppet regimes of foreign nationality but American loyalty.  The great Vattel described this phenomenon with his usual succinctness:
But a people that has passed under the dominion of another is no longer a state, and can no longer avail itself directly of the law of nations. Such were the nations and kingdoms which the Romans rendered subject to their empire; the generality even of those whom they honoured with the name of friends and allies no longer formed real states. Within themselves they were governed by their own laws and magistrates; but without, they were in every thing obliged to follow the orders of Rome; they dared not of themselves either to make war or contract alliances; and could not treat with nations.
Of course these quislings, traitors to their own nations, were not loyal to America, but rather to Washington.  But from the perspective of, say, France, it made no difference:

During the transition our dear puppets kept phoning their masters, in excellent English of course, but could not get an answer.  Sometimes the line would pick up, but emit no English - only a sort of wet scuttling noise, suggestive of the Maryland blue crab with its exquisitely evolved hind paddles.

Bees without a queen are pretty helpless.  It didn't take long for the French and others to get the idea.  As Americans, of course, it's hard to support what they did.  But as Americans, we don't have to.  Besides, France has a pretty long tradition of this kind of thing.  Hot-blooded Latins and all.

But wait - as Americans, why should we mind if Washington conquers the world?  Isn't it awesome, always and everywhere, to rule?

Not at all.  The doctrine of ultra vires exists for a reason.  Every institution, private or public, is chartered to serve the interests and purposes of its beneficiaries.  If it decides it has the right to trade off the interests of those beneficiaries, purportedly for the purpose of serving other beneficiaries to whom it is not contractually responsible, but has decided to love simply out of the goodness of its gigantic and perpetually hemorrhaging heart -

When USG decided it had the right not to serve the people of America, to whom it was exclusively responsible, it set the precedent that it could abuse American interests for any purpose it desired.   And what other precedent could tyranny demand?

USG certainly was never responsible to any other party.  Operating ultra vires as a world government, like any regime it worked assiduously to curry the favor of its foreign subjects.  But how could it possibly be responsible to the mango farmers of Pakistan? 

No - in its capacity as planetary benefactor, USG could only be utterly irresponsible and autocratic.  In time it probably would have followed the example of Rome and extended the citizenship of the metropolis to the entire empire.  Not that this would have given foreigners any more real authority over "their" government than Americans already enjoyed.  But at least it would have fixed the optics.

And why?  Why this amazing planetary empire?  Ostensibly, we were told, the motive was the benefit of humanity.  What a purpose!  What benefit!  The progressive global leadership that at home produced Clockwork Orange Detroit also gave us Clockwork Orange France, Clockwork Orange South Africa, Clockwork Orange Haiti, Clockwork Orange Syria, etc, etc, etc.  Nor may we forget its earlier patronage of Clockwork Orange Russia and Clockwork Orange ChinaAll told, the murders on USG's tab run well into 9 figures.  Hitler was an amateur and Mao was a cheap local punk.

No, there is a simpler reason.  Washington loved it.  It was not America that got to rule the world, but Washington.  This amazing global empire was responsible neither to Americans, nor to foreigners; neither did it serve the interests of either.  The interests it served were its own.  How fortunate we are that this monster is at the bottom of a river!  Happy the crabs that feast on its corse!  May never drought undrown its bones!  Roll on, great Potomack, roll.  In spring's floods the bricks do tumble, the waterman hears clicks and clacks and smiles broadly as he casts his net.  To trumpets and great pageant the kings are home; the television's dead; the globe exhales in peace at last.

In the mouths of Washington's worm-tongued professors, not all of whom were truly bad people, many of whom later found real meaning and excellence in plumbing, landscaping or driving a cab, the strawman was easily raised that if USG considered only the interests of Americans, it should logically use its planetary dominion to (for example) slaughter the entire population of Brazil for its fresh young transplantable organs.  Not so, because Americans were and are not collectively evil and have no intention of committing any such crime.  Neither will any institution responsible to them.  It is not their interests only that a responsible government is bound to follow, but their purposes. 

In an international capacity, the purpose of a sovereign people - or any other sane sovereign - is to protect their own rights and respect the rights of others, as laid down by Vattel and other great scholars of the classical European international law.  Like so many sound old principles, the good name of international law was perverted by the unspeakable 20th century into a system of transnational domination.  Yet the law of nations is a natural law, and under the rubble it remained true; and shone with the glint of real gold.  And outside the stables, flowed the patient river by.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Jacques Ellul on the demand for propaganda

Usually I only post excerpts of very good books or very bad ones.  Jacques Ellul's Propaganda (1962) is neither - it is a pretty good book.  It's dated in many ways and has many of the faults of the postwar French intellectual. 

Nonetheless, Ellul lived and observed in Vichy France, a great laboratory of this black art in which fascist and communist propagandas of every conceivable flavor competed, interacted, and interbred.  Here, for instance, is a great summation of the 20th-century achievement in the form:
The idea that propaganda consists of lies (which makes it harmless and even a little ridiculous in the eyes of the public) is still maintained by some specialists; for example, Frederick C. Irion gives it as the basic trait in his definition of propaganda.  But it is certainly not so.  For a long time propagandists have recognized that lying must be avoided.  "In propaganda, truth pays off" -- this formula has been increasingly accepted.  Lenin proclaimed it.  And alongside Hitler's statement on lying one must place Goebbels' insistence that facts to be disseminated must be accurate.(*)

How can we explain this contradiction?  It seems that in propaganda we must make a radical distinction between a fact on the one hand and intentions or interpretations on the other; in brief, between the material and moral elements.  The truth that pays off is in the realm of facts.  The necessary falsehoods, which also pay off, are in the realm of intentions and interpretations.
This is Propaganda 101.  The footnote is also interesting:
* - This idea is now generally accepted.  In the United States it is the Number One rule in propaganda manuals, except for unbelievable and harmful truths, about which it is better to remain silent.  SHAEF said in its manual: "When there is no compelling reason to suppress a fact, tell it... Aside from considerations of military security, the only reason to suppress a piece of news is if it is unbelievable... When the listener catches you in a lie, your power diminishes... For this reason, never tell a lie which can be discovered." 

As far back as 1940 the American psychological services already had orders to tell the truth; in carrying them out, for example, they distributed the same newspapers to American and German soldiers.  In the Communist bloc we find exactly the same attitude: Mao has always been very careful to state the facts exactly, including bad news.  On the basis of Lenin's general theory of information, it is incorrect that the dissemination of false news does not create problems.  French propagandists also have discovered that truthfulness is effective, and that it is better to spread a piece of bad news oneself than to wait until it is revealed by others.

There remains the problem of Goebbels' reputation.  He wore the title of Big Liar (bestowed by Anglo-Saxon propaganda) and yet he never stopped battling for propaganda to be as accurate as possible.  He preferred being cynical and brutal to being caught in a lie.  He used to say: "Everybody must know what the situation is."  He was always the first to announce disastrous events or difficult situations, without hiding anything.

The result was a general belief, between 1939 and 1942, that German communiques were not only more concise, clearer, and less cluttered, but were more truthful than Allied communiques (American and neutral opinion) -- and, furthermore, that the Germans published all the news two or three days before the Allies.  All this is so true that pinning the title of Big Liar on Goebbels must be considered quite a propaganda success.
See, you've already learned something today! (And it can't be repeated too often that when Hitler talks about the "Big Lie," he is accusing his enemies rather than revealing his plans - not, of course, that his own propaganda is anything but propaganda.)

The core of Ellul's work is his explanation of why both the State and the People need propaganda.  The former is a straightforward matter we've considered many times here at UR:
Ergo: even in a democracy, a government that is honest, serious, benevolent, and respects the voter cannot follow public opinion.  But it cannot escape it either.  The masses are there; they are interested in politics.  The government cannot act without them.  So, what can it do?

Only one solution is possible: as the government cannot follow opinion, opinion must follow the government.  One must convince this present, ponderous, impassioned mass that the government's decisions are legitimate and good and that its foreign policy is correct.  The democratic state, precisely because it believes in the expression of public opinion and does not gag it, must channel and shape that opinion if it wants to be realistic and not follow an ideological dream.
The most benevolent State will inform the people of what it does.  For the government to explain how it acts, why it acts, and what the problems are, makes sense; but when dispensing such information, the government cannot remain coldly objective; it must plead its case, inevitably, if only to counteract opposing propaganda.  [...]  And because pure and simple information cannot prevail against modern propaganda techniques, the government, too, must act through propaganda.
The American writer Bradford Westerfield has said: "In the United States, the government almost always conducts its foreign policy on its own initiative, but where the public is interested in a particular question, it can only proceed with the apparent support of a substantial majority of the people."  Westerfield stresses that at times concessions must be made to the people, but "if the President really directs opinion, and if the public accepts the foreign policy of the government as a whole, no great concessions will have to be made to elicit the necessary support."  Here we find confirmation that any modern State, even a democratic one, is burdened with the task of acting through propaganda.  It cannot act otherwise.

In 1957, when the Soviet people were called upon to study and discuss Khrushchev's Theses on Economic Reorganization, we witnessed a truly remarkable operation.  The underlying theme of it all was, of course, that everything is being decided by the people.  How can the people then not be in agreement afterward?  How can they fail to comply completely with what they have decided in the first place?

The Theses were submitted to the people first.  Naturally, they were then explained in all the Party organizations, in the Komsomols, in the unions, in the local soviets, in the factories, and so on, by agitprop specialists.  Then the discussions took place.  Next, Pravda opened its columns to the public, and numerous citizens sent in comments, expressed their views, suggested amendments.  After that, what happened?  The entire government program, without the slightest modification, was passed by the Supreme Soviet.
When Fidel Castro wanted to show that his power was based on democratic sentiment, he organized the Day of Justice, during which the whole population was called upon to sit in judgment of the past regime, and to express its sentiments upon massive demonstrations. These demonstrations were meant to "legalize" the death sentences handed down by the State courts and thus give a "democratic sanction" to the judgments. In doing this, Castro won the people's profound allegiance by satisfying the need for revenge against the former regime and the thirst for blood. He tied the people to the government by the strongest of bonds: the ritual crime. That Day of Justice (January 21, 1959) was undoubtedly a great propagandistic discovery. If it caused Castro some embarrassment abroad, it certainly was a great success at home. It should be noted that such provocation of popular action always serves to support governmental action. It is in no way spontaneous, and in no way expresses an intrinsic desire of the people: it merely expresses through a million throats of the crowd, the cry of governmental propaganda.

Second - and this is a subtler process -- governmental propaganda suggests that public opinion demand this or that decision; it provokes the will of the people, who spontaneously would say nothing. But, once evoked, formed, and crystallized on a point, that will becomes the people's will; and whereas the government really acts on its own, it gives the impression of obeying public opinion -- after first having built the public opinion. The point is to make the masses demand of the government what the government has already decided to do. If it follows this procedure, the government can no longer be called authoritarian, because the will of the people demands what is being done. In this fashion, when the German public opinion unanimously demanded the liberation of Czechoslovakia, the German government had no choice but to invade that country in obedience to the people. It yielded to opinion as soon as opinion -- through propaganda -- had become strong enough to appear to influence the government.
Yeah, yeah.  We know all this - I hope.  But the People need their propaganda too:
A common view of propaganda is that it is the work of a few evil men, seducers of the people, cheats and authoritarian rulers who want to dominate a population; that it is the handmaiden of more or less illegitimate powers.  This view always thinks of propaganda as being made voluntarily; it assumes that a man decides "to make propaganda," that a government establishes a Propaganda Ministry, and that things just develop from there.  According to this view, the public is just an object, a passive crowd that one can manipulate, influence, and use.  And this notion is held not only by those who think one can manipulate the crowd, but also by those who think propaganda is not very effective and can be resisted easily.

In other words, this view distinguishes between an active factor -- the propagandist -- and a passive factor -- the crowd, the mass man.  Seen from that angle, it is easy to understand the moralist's hostility to propaganda: man is the innocent victim pushed into evil ways by the propagandist; the propagandee is entirely without blame because he has been fooled and has fallen into a trap.  The militant Nazi and Communist are just poor victims who must not be fought but must be psychologically liberated from that trap, readapted to freedom, and shown the truth.  In any case, the propagandee is seen in the role of the poor devil who cannot help himself, who has no means of defense against the bird of prey who swoops down on him from the skies.  A similar point of view can be found in studies on advertising which regard the buyer as victim and prey.  In all this the propagandee is never charged with the slightest responsibility for a phenomenon regarded as originating entirely outside of himself.

This view seems to me completely wrong.
For propaganda to succeed, it must correspond to a need for propaganda on the individual's part.  One can lead a horse to water but cannot make him drink; one cannot reach through propaganda those who do not need what it offers.  The propagandee is by no means just an innocent victim.  He provokes the psychological action of propaganda, and not merely lends himself to it, but even derives satisfaction from it.

Without this previous, implicit consent, without this need for propaganda experienced by practically every citizen of the technological age, propaganda could not spread.  There is not just a wicked propagandist who sets up means to ensnare the innocent citizen.  Rather, there is a citizen who craves propaganda from the bottom of his being and a propagandist who responds to this craving.
I think that propaganda fulfills a need of modern man, a need that creates in him an unconscious desire for propaganda.  He is in the position of needing outside help to be able to face his condition.  And that help is propaganda.  Naturally, he does not say: "I want propaganda."  On the contrary, in line with preconceived notions, he abhors propaganda and considers himself a "free and mature person."  But in reality he calls for and desires propaganda that will permit him to ward off certain attacks and reduce certain tensions.
We have stressed that the State can no longer govern without the masses, which nowadays are closely involved in politics.  But these masses are composed of individuals.  From their point of view, the problem is slightly different: they are interested in politics and consider themselves concerned with politics; even if they are not forced to participate actively because they live in a democracy, they embrace politics as soon as someone wants to take the democratic regime away from them.

But this presents them with problems that are way over their heads.  They are faced with choices and decisions which demand maturity, knowledge, and a range of information which they do not and cannot have.  Elections are limited to the selection of individuals, which reduces the problem of participation to its simplest form.  But the individual wishes to participate in other ways than just elections.  He wants to be conversant with economic questions.  In fact, his government asks him to be.  He wants to form an opinion on foreign policy.  But in reality he can't.  He is caught between his desire and his inability, which he refuses to accept.

For no citizen will believe that he is unable to have opinions.  Public opinion surveys always reveal that people have opinions even on the most complicated questions, except for a small minority (usually the most informed and those who have reflected most).  The majority prefers expressing stupidities to not expressing opinion: this gives them the feeling of participation.  For this they need simple thoughts, elementary explanations, a "key" that will permit them to take a position, and even ready-made opinions.

As most people have the desire and at the same time the incapacity to participate, they are ready to accept a propaganda that will permit them to participate, and which hides their incapacity beneath explanations, judgments, and news, enabling them to satisfy their desire without eliminating their incompetence.  The more complex, general, and accelerated political and economic phenomena become, the more individuals feel concerned, the more they want to be involved.  In a certain sense this is democracy's gain, but it also leads to more propaganda.

And the individual does not want information, but only value judgments and preconceived positions.  Here one must also take into account the individual's laziness, which plays a decisive role in the entire propaganda phenomenon, and the impossibility of transmitting all information fast enough to keep up with developments in the modern world.  Besides, the developments are not merely beyond man's intellectual scope; they are also beyond him in volume and intensity; he simply cannot grasp the world's economic and political problems. 

Faced with such matters, he feels his weakness, his inconsistency, his lack of effectiveness.  He realizes that he depends on decisions over which he has no control, and that realization drives him to despair.  Man cannot stay in this situation too long.  He needs an ideological veil to cover the harsh reality, some consolation, a raison d'etre, a sense of values.  And only propaganda offers him a remedy for a basically intolerable situation.
This is all true.  Even in 2013, it is true.  And yet, it offers some hope.

It is a frequently observed truth of con men that it's impossible to con an innocent man.  It is also impossible to propagandize an innocent man.  It is your political ambition - an original sin if there every was one; when I translate "original sin" into 21st-century English, it comes out as "evolutionary psychology" - that makes you fall for this con.  Somehow excising this libido dominandi, the lust for power, would leave you as immune to propaganda as a tonsillectomy to tonsillitis. 

Or a castration to porn.  Indeed, what Ellul is telling us - a fact which is obvious today, though much less so in 1962 - is that the modern propaganda addict (we cannot call him a victim) experiences political authority, a delicious taste instinctively desired by all men and women of true chimpanzee descent, entirely as porn.  That is, as a simulation entirely without substance.

Is there life after porn?  In 1962, this seemed impossible and indeed it was.  Then again, in 1962, democracy, though not real, included many more living remnants of an age when it was once real.  The organized political riot, for instance, remained a reality in every democratic country.  Even in America, in the resistance to desegregation, we see political crowds using crude hand weapons and sheer weight of biomass to actively pursue their collective interests against the agenda of the State.  It's true that these crowds were weak and were defeated, but it's also true that they existed.  They would be unthinkable today.  The Tea Party, the closest thing to their successors, doesn't even litter.

There are two ways to imagine a realistic life after porn.  First, the political libido of the average Westerner has greatly decreased, through absence of reality and overstimulation of falsity.  Engagement remains, but has much diminished.  Apathy is proverbial.

Apathy, which is a passive reaction, is not by any means conquest of desire.  But it provides a platform for conquest of desire.  Moreover, the extraordinary increase, not in the intelligence of the crowd, but in its philosophical sophistication, must be reckoned with.  Imagine the impact of a movie like Inception on the audience of 1962.  Irony and "meta" are old hat to quite a large population.  Conquest of desire?  Zen, or at least the idea of Zen (Zen is an exercise, not an idea), is familiar to essentially anyone who can read.

And second, conquest of desire need not mean elimination of desire.  It can mean control of desire.  It is possible to reject porn in favor of celibacy.  It is also possible to reject porn in favor of sex.  It is true that all superficially plausible channels of conventional political activism are more or less what Patri Friedman calls "folk activism," ie, porn.  But when the impossible is rejected, the implausible becomes possible.

Power porn, that is, political action compatible with official propaganda (even supposedly anti-government actions can reinforce the narrative, often strongly; Timothy McVeigh was a better propaganda asset than Bill Moyers), is essentially a safety valve that prevents real and effective collective action by bleeding off its energy source.  To realize that porn and celibacy are effectively the same choice is also to refocus your sex drive on achieving actual sex.  To the porn addict, actual sex seems undesirable, because actual women are never as desirable as porn stars.  Learning to overcome this, and becoming accustomed to actual women with actual pubic hair, is the essence of the exercise.

Of course, sex differs from power in that sex is individual, where power is collective.  It is not sufficient for an individual to overcome his phobia of political pubic hair.  It is necessary for a substantial number, if nowhere near a majority, to do so.  Is it possible?  Is there space for a new and more genuine propaganda, which would genuinely satisfy the libido of the masses, by offering at least the genuine opportunity for genuine authority?  Perhaps we'll see.

Monday, March 18, 2013

RIP Bitcoin, I think

As predicted here last month, USG is killing Bitcoin - I'm pretty sure.  FINCEN has just issued its guidance on virtual currencies.

TL;DR: every currently operating Bitcoin exchange is operating in violation of the law - or, if you prefer, "law."  (Obviously "laws" made in this way are a profound and utter mockery of the good old English word "law," but there you go.)  Here is the complete Bitcoin guidance:
A person that creates units of this convertible virtual currency and uses it to purchase real or virtual goods and services is a user of the convertible virtual currency and not subject to regulation as a money transmitter. By contrast, a person that creates units of convertible virtual currency and sells those units to another person for real currency or its equivalent is engaged in transmission to another location and is a money transmitter. In addition, a person is an exchanger and a money transmitter if the person accepts such de-centralized convertible virtual currency from one person and transmits it to another person as part of the acceptance and transfer of currency, funds, or other value that substitutes for currency.
IANAL, of course, but as I read this: here are the things it is now perfectly "legal" to do with Bitcoin.   One, you can mine BTC and use them to buy alpaca socks.  Two, you can accept BTC in exchange for your alpaca socks.  Awfully generous of our wise masters, don't you think?

Operating a BTC exchange anywhere in the world, however, is now "illegal" (as I read it).  So, in a particularly ingenious touch, is mining BTC and selling it for money.  Ie, mining BTC.  Ie, it is quite plain that every player in the Bitcoin economy violates this grand ukase of the Holy Procurator - and, if prudent, will begin making plans to shut down permanently, tomorrow.

Unless, of course, it has a money transmitter license.  Obviously, none of these has been or will be issued to any Bitcoiners.  I have not of course seen the questionnaire (ha ha - the first question being, can you afford $2.5M in legal fees?), but I imagine it asks you how you know the monies you're transmitting are not the product of illegal activity.  Of course, Bitcoin provides no such assurance.  By design.  That's because it's well-designed - for a free country that doesn't exist.

It does not matter whether or not USG would issue a BTC exchange an MTL under any circumstances - because BTC will "get dead," as my daughter puts it, before even the friendliest of regimes could act on such an application.  I'm not getting the feeling this is the friendliest of regimes.

Ergo, we can expect the BTC economy to segment rapidly into two groups: those who see the writing on the wall and cash out/cut losses as fast as possible, and those who for whatever reason want to play whack-a-mole with Washington.  Washington will have great fun with the latter.

However, the essential problem is that BTC cannot maintain its exchange rate against USD, for reasons discussed in the prior post, without the present burgeoning white economy.  The BTC black economy has many ways to fight USG - but it ceases to exist if the white economy ceases to maintain the BTC price above zero.  Criminals don't work for free.

But, of course, I could be wrong.  There is certainly no investment advice here at UR...

Beef: The REAL Health Food

Update - Sten made me aware that the timing between the slides and the audio fails at the 31 minute mark. I am preparing a corrected version. I'll upload it as soon as I can, and re-post the link.

Update 2 - Corrected versions are posted to Vimeo and YouTube

I was invited to participate in the joint Maryland Cattle Industry Convention and Hay & Pasture Conference. My visit to Hagerstown was quite enjoyable. I met a number of folks and I learned a great deal.

I gave two presentations: “Optimizing Forage-Based Animal Nutrition” and “Beef: The REAL Health Food!” I meant to record both of them, but I forgot to turn on my Zoom H2 for the animal nutrition presentation. [slaps forehead]
I’ve produced a “video” of the Beef presentation. It’s a combination of an audio recording with the PowerPoint slide set.