Excerpt: a chorus of the living, an orchestra of echoes

A brief excerpt taken from Book III of Volume I of The Constellation of Man. These metaphors, like others I use in the book, introduce realism concerning the novelty of our personal appearance on preconstructed stages of history and human culture, atop mind and neuroanatomy, all much older and more extensive than ourselves alone. They remind us of our limited capacity for spontaneous reinvention, how originality relies on legacy, and how much the living unknowingly repeat.

No matter our modern wishfulness for reinvention at will, and the age’s typical convictions that we become New and Different—teenage egocentrism uncorrected by youth advertising, the optimism of self-help, democratic-age political rhetoric like revolution, ignorance of the comparable past and lives of others, New Age spirituality, religious rebirths, et cetera—our mere wishes and naive convictions do not make it so. —CPB


Culture lingers like many echoes after making the first sound. A small innovation propagates in a medium until it dissipates, like a sound wave no longer audible. Across time, people sustain the note by picking it up, far more than they innovate.

Suppose culture were music. We hear its echoes in the air. We might listen intently, but listen in passing a thousandfold. When we make sounds, we add notes in harmony, follow the timing or the rhythm, or pick up the motif, naturally and without discretion.

An echo plays in memory. It plays back from transient personal experience of hearing, changed by its time between the ears but repeated, imitated, echoed. In this way, passed from source to contemporary ears, heard and made a sound again, echoes can persist beyond lifetimes.

We join a chorus of the living. We do not begin to sing a song by ourselves. We learned what we know of melody and harmony since the cradle; we learned to imitate pitch; we sang along with lyrics and verses, wanting to be heard. And if we should learn with great difficulty to step away and sing alone, we sing as soloists and not as though we have never heard the chorus before. It is doubtful whether we can sing our very own song, like the creation of a new music, a new language, or hearing with ears that have never heard the old songs.

There is so little silence to hear. Notes hang in the air long enough to be picked up: cues from the living to the living; cues from the dead to the living.

We play along in orchestras that began their symphonies long before we were born, and did not cease as one composer, conductor, or musician died after another. It might seem, to one who could listen across time, that we are each instruments reproduced to play ancient and antique sounds, not that we are born to compose ourselves. Over time, the dead play out through the living, in an orchestra of echoes.

Musical Alchemy: The Soloist, Alberto Montacchini, 1934

The Liberating Value of Reconciliation

Two things amaze me, again and again, about American enthusiasm for rancor in politics.

I. Vengeance welcomes and relishes any opportunities to humiliate or oppress one’s opponents, but shows no foresight of how this creates a precedent—a legal and cultural blueprint for how one could be destroyed by the same methods, once the enemies one has made have similar opportunities.

The ones who now clamor to deny their opponents freedom of political speech, and (for instance) demand putting conservatives on no-fly lists as punishment today seem to have no memory of putting antiwar activists and Muslims on them yesterday (figuratively speaking). They seem to have no imagination for how their own civil liberties could be curtailed in the future by other no-appeal persecutions and exclusions, if the supposedly-abominable category of beliefs were simply adjusted to a different definition, and re-assigned to one’s own group—just as it happened in this case!

And those of us who vividly remember how words like traitor, disloyal, sedition, unpatriotic, pro-terrorist, etc. were used to silence dissent during the post 9-11 administrations (not to mention, during the McCarthyite Cold War and before), have been very unhappy to witness the comeback of these rhetorical bludgeons, which have so often excused official crimes against civil liberties of valuable dissidents and whistleblowers, as well as minorities.

Nothing more enlightened or generous than long-term self-interest is necessary to realize the value of protecting civil liberties of people one doesn’t like, and vehemently disagrees with.

II. But another amazing thing is an evident incomprehension of the famous principle, divide and rule.

It seems the more gullible because we may observe eager divisiveness not only among the political class, but also among those who are essentially almost powerless, without influence, who pick up crumbs left in the jostling of corporatist plutocracy, party oligarchy, and inexorable bureaucracy. It’s not amazing at all that members of the political class and state—which is to say, the ruling class extended broadly beyond politicians and plutocrats to bureaucrats and policy experts, prosecutors, media and pundits, ideologues and activists, and invested enforcers—should deliberately engender rancor, with a stake and some means to profit by conflict. Even petty members of those guilds are at least in a position to gain attention, or status in an aggrieved group, if not other currency.

But of course, the fantasy everyone has is that they become part of the ruling class, because they take political action, or engage in political argument, or feel outraged. This is the fantasy helped along by media incitement and magnification of arguments, but also by the ideology of democracy, in which we are all supposedly included in the “power of the people.” In Grand Illusions, I explained how the fantasy works against any sensible assessment of one’s own power and influence, or rationally assessing the dog one might have in a fight. But it also leads to a strategy that cuts one’s own legs off, in terms of any ability to resist one’s true oppressors, or even to identify the true and implacable enemies of one’s liberty and opportunity to carve out a better life.

To seek understanding of one’s apparent opponents, instead of deliberately obscuring facts in order to score rhetorical points and humiliate them, and to try to find common ground instead of making all political opponents one disagrees with morally untouchable (with invective like “white supremacist” or “communist” or “Nazi” etc.) are both potent weapons against actual oppressors as judged by tangible measures.

Oppressors may comprise a quite different category from outstanding offenders, who attract so much attention by things they say, and essentially performative acts. Oppressors who control the state can continue quietly to appropriate billions or trillions of dollars in all, and subjugate or murder thousands of people. Whole industries fall so they could gain without earning, and whole communities perish at their whims. Meanwhile, it’s quite easy to take offense caused by someone who has caused little to no injury (whether because they were incapable, incompetent, or less malevolent than it seems)—and pay far better attention to that insult. Do not imagine then that the former category have any trouble seeing the value of distractions.

Politically-active Americans, like many who engage in politics around the world, have quite a lot of trouble with this realism. Politics rests on so much myth-making that offense feels more appreciable. Hysteria is easily caused by offense to pride or “desecration” of symbols.

But the truth is that even the most offensive persons who lack power have a great deal of trouble causing even a fraction of the harm done by “good intentions” and the vast power of a bureaucracy. Even outspoken, genuine racists are rendered marginal and trivial without state power, whereas the power of the state, were it sanitized of either true white supremacy or MAGA-style nativism, would continue to be used to oppress, either in favor of dozens of other ideologies and supremacies—nationalism and militarism among them—or simply for age-old self-aggrandizement, the enrichment of cronies and personal greed. The basic corruption of politicians, of the sort that regularly empowers lucrative war or police-state interests and accepts bribes from brutal autocrats, doesn’t harm its victims less than some grandiose goal for the state’s apparatus.

The fear that is sold by fearmongers is of course, Just wait! Destroy them now, or be terrified of what your enemies will do—would do—if you treat them like anything less than anathema. Look how offensive they already are! So called “conservatives” and “right-wingers” are often told they can’t reason with “liberals” and “left-wingers,” and vice versa, because the Other seeks to destroy all they hold dear.

This is the logic that never permits an end to war, and makes the war of politics perpetual.

Those who are not incorrigible suckers should ask themselves: who really profits from such a state of affairs—this Eternal State of antagonism? Well, who profits from a never-ending drug war? Who profits from a never-ending “war on terror”? Who—as a matter of fact—just managed to add a new category to the “terrorists” we must either be against, or with?

The continuing fantasy that we are part of the Good Fight, that we are relevant to a Good Fight, appeals to very basic emotions. These emotions obscure the incredible power disparity of “the state,” which is to say connected people, versus most other people. We haven’t the awesome power of legalized recourse to compulsion and violence, legal favoritism, and access to the “public money” taken from us en masse. Surely we can summon up some of that base resentment and anger instead against being tricked, fooled so miserably, for so very long.

On Ugly Ideas and Intolerance

Ideas are neither benign, nor malignant, out of the context of a specific mentality. They depend entirely on our subjective mental context to affect us. As we respond to ideas in one way or another, as we adopt one idea versus another, the ideas we use to operate in the world alter the chances of a given possibility coming to pass versus almost infinite others. This is how ideas benefit or harm us, which we can only judge by the experience of what we did believe and what did happen. We model the effect — not very accurately — by the metaphor of a polar charge, positive or negative. But ideas themselves are neither.

— Colin Patrick Barth, THE FALL OF THE CULTURE OF MIND

Due to recent events recalling the intolerance of disagreement when it comes to offending and so-called “dangerous” ideas, I want to reproduce here two more excerpts concerned with the ramifications of making this essentialist and moralist philosophical error, which also makes a category error, and an error in logical typing (as the cyberneticist Gregory Bateson might refer to it). Remember always that thinking, at least with what we figuratively term an “open mind,” concerns a process or exercise of improvisation, which leads to many achievable outcomes. It is not some computerized output that given inputs already assure.

The essay I quote from is concerned with becoming capable of the exercise of thought with an open mind, and the social costs of prohibiting “bad ideas” and therefore the exercise of profound disagreement itself.

The nonsense of ideas malicious in themselves, outside the context of a moment in a mind, ignores the multitude of perspectives, the many different lights cast upon circulating ideas by subjective considerations of different and changing individuals. After all in terms of their relationships to people, ideas remain fluid, ever-shifting entities, not constant things. The belief that a given idea is like an atom of evil is not only primitive, it is inconsistent with a free society allowing liberty for individual minds. It shows no faith at all in the principle of free speech, and in the ability of an open mind to separate value from worthlessness. 

If the deniers of a widely accepted theory are wrong, they can and should be proven wrong, again and again, and thereby discredited by the standard of accuracy. If the deniers of a widely accepted ethic seek to overturn it for some dubious motivation, bring all this out into the light, and let them scamper away. To do otherwise is to overestimate their power before any reckoning. It suggests that to do battle with them on the open field of ideas would bring defeat, or perhaps that an open debate would likewise draw unwanted attention to one’s own motives.

If all Holocaust revisionists* are completely wrong and utterly-straightforward bigots, let them make their case, expose them, and devastate them. As with all such cases, we will know more than before. Our refreshed process of thought will lead to other thoughts. And we will avert the danger of censorship, as well as the danger of falsehoods. But, if they are even a few parts in a thousand right (which even a bigot might easily manage), don’t we want their yield added to our truth, as well?

* This is the example already introduced in the essay (because of censorship practiced in Europe), but many other examples of derided ideas could be inserted instead—pulled from contemporary accusations made against wild conspiracy theorists, white nationalists, et al., or anybody inaccurately smeared as such.

The crowd always hates disagreement, strong disagreement most heartily. It does not matter whether the individual who takes exception is a dissident with answers to illuminate humanity in an hour of darkness, or some bigot determined to revise provable facts. 

Of course this is why the founders of intellectual and ideological freedoms — familiar as the slogans and shibboleths of the West and modernity — first protected the disagreeable individual from the crowd. Only a fool asks a mob, or a ruler pandering to the mob to know and do only what is right, and suppress only that which they deem wrong [emphasis added]. This is the wise rationale behind free speech: that only an individual can decide what to like and what to dislike while a mob reacts, and moreover, only an individual child or adult can decide for himself how an idea affects him personally, in his distinct context — as we say, positively or negatively — and nobody else. 

The concept of an open mind freely consuming new ideas is not designed for social groups but individual minds. Only an individual can sift gold from sand. As masses, people seek to conform, to remove difference, and tend towards intolerance. Only an individual can experience and learn the value of internal discord. Social conformity, on the other hand, is the process which counterbalances novelty and differentiation. On a mental level, this produces similarity of thoughts with fewer catalysts in the form of different concepts and contrary information. Left to itself, conformity therefore tends to produce a slow-witted stasis.

The accord of society must be refreshed by the discord prized by open minds. Eventually a closed-minded culture is composed almost entirely of dull, conservative conformists, with many superficial differences that persuade them of their own breadth and tolerance, but a poverty of deep variations in thought. They are bored to tears with their well-worn comfort zone, and manufacture neverending permissible transgressions. Their sclerotic culture struggles to cope with changes their ancestors once weathered merrily. They are frightened by their own lethargy. Dimly recalling debate, they have too much trouble summoning up different points of view to stage a productive argument. Instead they bicker ineptly and tediously about nothing at all fundamental, nothing at all relevant to their predicament [emphasis added].

In their intolerance, those who forget why we need freedom of speech attack the very purpose for which it was created. That freedom of speech might, and does allow objectionable points to be raised in a society of two or two billion is not some price to pay for it, but the soul of the principle. To hear objectionable ideas is the goal! If we no longer value objection, if we do not prize the tutelage of discord more highly than uniform agreement, we are unworthy of this great freedom, and we will surely see the collapse of civilization follow the complacency of its engineers.

Read the whole essay for more development of the meaning of an open mind, and the importance of a culture of debated ideas. I first published The Fall of the Culture of Mind online in 2007, and included it in the print anthology Rising in Words in 2008.

I’m sure I was thinking in part about the intolerance of debate and social criticism I experienced in America that peaked from 2001–2003, which allowed the state’s wars, police state tactics, and surveilling bureaucracies to expand rapidly with few questions asked, persecution of dissidents, and a generosity towards lies and misinformation that fit media narratives.

Recent years again seem no less unhinged, detached from reality, and disinterested in hearing about it from those who know. Now an expatriate, I wonder what the grave consequences will be.

Consider that a generation will lose every worthwhile piece of civilization that they fail to recreate in their own lives, as virtues: showing tolerance, having courage, making peace, suspending judgment, and performing intellectual work, among them.

The “free world” only means the world which has inherited freedom. Those would-be open minds who inherit free thought must perpetually recreate themselves as worthy heirs, and earn their world in order to keep it. An open mind is not a present one can give, but an engine firing that must be maintained.

Strategy and Clarity about the Police State and Racism, continued

This post is a follow up to my previous post, Knowledge Matters, Too: Tell the Twin Stories of Violence and Race, which introduced the dispositive role that power plays, specifically the overlapping institutions of the police state and militarism. I suggest you read that post before this post, which supplements it with additional parts.

In the main body which I subtitled “Twin Stories to Tell: Power and Racism in America,” I broadly connected the development of an authoritarian bully mentality with racist institutions of law and law enforcement. I must always be dissatisfied by an incomplete case made for an argument that I know can be rendered more sophisticated, and better supported. In this case I necessarily omitted a book’s worth of points supplemental to the argument, and specific correlations between the threads of state violence and racism. Life and death won’t wait for spelling things out as an intellectual might want. That is why I moved on quickly to nominate some tactics, not for protesting itself, but demands that stay on target—before the news cycle forgets and the opportunity is lost.

Ineffective strategy will fail, but even inefficient strategy will cost lives.

But because of those stakes and not in spite of them, in this post I’m going to expand on a few key supportive points I left underdeveloped. I am convinced that to reckon with these factors would make a profound difference to both efficiency and effectiveness.

 

Intro. In this post I pick up from questions of strategy to prevent police brutality and murder in the United States, with the discussion already framed and its purpose clear: results that save lives, and no other mission; not virtue-signaling, fund-raising, organizational prominence, community involvement, self-expression, listening and being heard, or any other cause in itself whether it seems noble or not.

I urge people to keep in mind that clever strategy often doesn’t feel right, or personally fulfilling. It doesn’t often provide an outlet to vent pent-up emotions. (I remind myself, too, because I can get as angry or disgusted as anyone can.) Effective strategy may not follow preconceptions. Pursuing it might not be popular. For example: it was counterintuitive and offensive to many that the realities of legal precedent required that ACLU lawyers should volunteer to defend the First Amendment rights of white supremacists, lest those rights be eroded for valuable protests of—among others—black civil rights activists. Historically, difficult cases on the fringe establish precedent, and the state goes after unsympathetic targets.

The strategic mind must be willing to let go of attachments and inhibitions that get in the way, and strive to be flexible. It aims above all to solve a problem, say, to cure a disease, like a doctor, who must do their job and give their medical opinion even if it isn’t liked. If sociopolitical strategy can be compared to a fight, as activists following the “revolutionary” metaphor often do, it ought to resemble the fight brought by a martial artist with calm bearing, who won’t allow emotions like anger to disrupt focus, and efficient movements.

In fact, perfect clarity about relative priorities would render devising strategy an amoral process to identify just what’s necessary to serve those goals. This was the precept for Sun Tzu‘s teaching, and to some extent Machiavelli’s. It’s possible to appreciate the lesson and apply it to serve quite different values and intentions.

What is necessary to solve a long-term problem is usually not what is already being done. Typical thinking ostensibly either produced the problem, mishandled it, misunderstood it, or distracted from it. That is why, at the risk of offense when I take some decades-old thinking to task for incessant errors, I propose checking it against other angles. Along the way, analysis from other perspectives will make it easier to identify productive tactics, that some protestors are already using (filming police thuggery). And, to see that some campaigners are on the right track with the concept of defunding police (contingent on security-role replacement adopting decentralized non-state services employed by local people, so as not to merely reboot the system).

 

Part I. Most well-intentioned responses fail to make adequate distinction between the dispositions of people in the general (national or regional) population, and the dispositions of:

  1. cops,
  2. the more powerful members of the police state behind them (prosecutors, politicians)
  3. psychopathic cops

So, many of those responses talk collectively about “America” and talk to “America.” This isn’t at all realistic. If it’s collective shorthand, it’s shorthand that has led the discourse astray, as political talk does.

Police throughout the US have, to some degree that probably varies from city to city, become more than a special-interest group, but a separately-associating group, a sub-population, with a lot of overlap between military veteran and cop families. Others grossly underestimate how far this goes. The enforcers keep their own culture, which is insular. Even the old practice of “walking the beat” (and getting to know the neighborhood and people in it) gave way to patrol cars, and nothing in common.

Cops likely hold fast to dramatically different attitudes and preconceptions about authority, themselves, obedience, soldiering, familiarity with violence, racial stereotypes, homeless people, gallows humor, and more, mutually reinforced by their unions and associations, partners, families, and drinking buddies.

The accused are not presumed innocent by cops, for example. That mindset goes even further, and presumes a “duty of the jury to convict” the accused, as though it were a jury’s job, which sounds fascist to non-authoritarians of any skin color. It’s a brotherhood that prioritizes each other, and covers for each other against citizens, by lying in court if necessary, so the state prosecutor can make cases. That’s “part of the job” for many. But it’s certainly far more than a job.

It’s debatable how much talking to the general population about racism will be ignored by this entrenched population. But that—to put it mildly—does not seem as productive or timely as undercutting their means of support and indulgence, which has so far been lavished on them by the state.

We have also to examine and account for the extent to which that separate, tribal culture and population are tolerant and protective of partial psychopaths. We cannot be certain exactly how many of the police officers who behave like thugs are psychopaths attracted to the power of the badge, or have instead been hardened to display a psychopathoid indifference toward lesser people, the ruled subjects of a thugocracy. This is only because the government doesn’t test candidates to exclude psychopathy, though it has objective and testable psychological and physiological criteria. (Known, in part, from studies in prison populations, so hardly new to the criminal justice system.)

Although not as permissive as a combat unit in a war zone, a police career must seem like a pretty good one to a psychopath—comparable to the way that a narcissist fits right into a political career, and is able to earn rewards from a lack of empathy instead of social penalties. Psychopaths are unafraid of the physical danger which might make a job on the streets unappealing. They get civic status and special legal protection, as well as opportunities to bully people in unequal power dynamics—threaten and frighten them, assault them, brutalize (and sodomize) them, if not choke them to death or shoot them and be acquitted, or never even charged.

Psychopaths are the category that best accounts for the infamous repeat offenders of police brutality complaints, because they are motivated by the adrenaline thrill of violence or abuse, and not averse to hurting others by virtue of common empathy.

Psychopaths in uniform don’t necessarily have any particular fixation (like racist ideology) on any one type of victim, just a fixation on bullying victims of opportunity. The thing is that inner-city minorities, immigrants, and the plentiful suspects of minor crimes supply those victims of opportunity with few career repercussions.

NB: Even with repercussions in place, psychopaths are dangerously impulsive, not long-term thinkers, by definition. They can never be trusted with license to use violence (if anyone could). They simply need to be excluded from power.

Further, psychopaths are not averse to transgression of well-understood social norms. They are even attracted to committing moral transgressions, such as sexual violence, because these are exciting. They should not be confused with mere contrarians attracted to devil’s advocacy, or to espousing shock opinions that cause outrage. We should consider that to propound and insist that Racism = Bad does nothing more for the psychopath than flag a transgressive thrill they may actually find inviting—and certainly won’t process as immoral, in the sense that others feel morals keenly. This is a different problem from commitment to racism as an ideological matter. It cannot be solved by confrontation or shaming, which they simply don’t respond to in the same way others do.

Based on an educated guess, I would say the danger posed by the presence of psychopaths in uniform probably exceeds the more-often discussed danger posed by white-nationalist infiltrators, although I do suspect many of those are, more-importantly, psychopaths. Psychopaths need no particular organization or belief to brutalize people; they can be, rather, enabled by these things. It might seem like splitting hairs, but it is consequential to discern these causes and origins, because police could continue to harbor psychopaths even if they shun racists—and perpetuate the problem.

And, psychopaths cannot be convinced not to be racists with moral arguments, or with punishments. They cannot be induced to stop committing violent crimes in uniform, any more than their recidivist counterparts in prison stop after they go through rehabilitation. Their neurology has permanent and recurring effects on behavior, which do not respond to psychological intervention.

 

Part II. Most well-intentioned responses are guided by lack of nuance about prejudice, bigotry, and racism. Most well-intentioned campaigns about racism are therefore diffuse and ineffectual, not on a timescale geared to emergency prevention.

The causation or enabling of violence by prejudice, bigotry, or (specifically) racism, which itself comes in numerous forms, and a range of severities of bias or hatred, is certainly a subject in itself. Evidence lends itself to endless debate over “contributing factors” by subjective viewpoints. The most salient point though, which can be made clear, concerns contrasts that are not being made between what’s universal (prejudice), or debatably-general (bigotry), and a very particular kind of racism indeed.

Combating prejudices presents an eternal challenge for vigilance and self-examination, as well as scientific doubt and questioning. I don’t mean to suggest that any one prejudice in particular (such as prejudice against black people) is natural or inherent rather than a construct of culture. That sort of claim always rests on tendentious pseudoscience and scientism, aping objective methods to justify values and beliefs, and pretend to derive them objectively. It used to be white segregationists, and now it is more likely radical black nationalists who cite pseudoscientific studies claiming that “the races”—left over from debunked eugenic and racialist theories—cannot get along. Actual science found that genetics and inherent behavior don’t break along lines of skin color.

But *forming prejudices* is natural. Human primates are rife with prejudices acquired about appearances and man-made categories, as an evolutionary product of fumbling through managing risk, and problem-solving our personal world with imperfect operational knowledge. Much of that tentative ‘knowledge’ was simply received from some source, not even personally experienced, and not actively questioned. We rely too much on group, primate-level influencer (family, friend, figurehead) cues for approval or disapproval as a means of sorting people and things, and navigating life’s many shoals. Neurotic people undergoing insecure phases might fall back on old prejudices the most, but we all use them.

As a result: We dislike or mistrust many things, hate few, and want exceedingly few if any people dead with our own hands—and few of us want the opportunity to decide, as a career choice.

No, that, we have to say, is different. When it keeps happening, that phenomenon really requires a different explanation and causal chain from vague nationwide “racism,” which includes lesser prejudices and/or bigotry, without distinction from the likes of the Klan. Particularly, when so much of the population reacts negatively to the specter of violent racism, it’s conspicuous that the prejudice, the moralism of the country takes cues against it, far more than for it. (Even sympathies and defenses from the separate population for “one of their own” seem fewer than before.)

But even if all that weren’t so—or, let’s say we discount moral outrage as insincere—it would still be a remarkable abdication of intellectual responsibility not to admit that it’s an extraordinary claim to make, and not a self-evident one at all, to draw an arrow from prejudice, or even bigotry, toward incidents of hands-on murder (by probable psychopaths)—in the ways that abstruse racial academics and college-educated activists habitually do. The formula and its logic are no less fallacious for having caught on.

It’s absurd on the face of it to convince people that re-examining whether they unconsciously hold their purse tighter when a black man walks by, or don’t hire enough qualified black employees, has something to do with kneeling on a black man’s throat for nine minutes. We’re reminded that both types of phenomena stem from a common history—but everything in human society does. This in itself doesn’t mean two things are closely connected, or cause each other. It doesn’t establish an interaction, or causative relationship.

Worse, it squanders precious time and energy to confuse the response this hopelessly during a genuine societal emergency slow-burning for decades, punctuated by avoidable deaths of real people. It no doubt appeals to us to think that the worst events already fall under our personal control, or personal development. It has thousands of well-meaning and influential people urging each other to “do the work.” Meanwhile the power of the police state ratchets event by event, not on some glacial timescale on which eroding all prejudice could be a realistic goal.

The explanatory laziness about accounting for what is happening at the hands of cops suggests to me other agendas from certain campaigners and activists besides focusing on that outstanding problem—whether they really care more for other social-justice issues and want to redirect effort there, have some axe to grind about “capitalism” or “society” in general—or else harbor guilt (so-called “white guilt”?) in search of a reason for taking blame, and therefore prefer a diffuse accusation that includes everyone. A need for mutual confession would fit with certain activists’ (and slackivists‘) preference to talk to each other, and demonstrate to sympathetic quarters, more than confront those who disagree, or do their worst, as activists in the 1960s civil rights movement did.

I can speculate, but the point is that only a precise diagnosis of the systemic problem leads to a timely solution and productive strategy. A great many activists and campaigners unfortunately do not pursue this, stopped by a premature answer: a fundamentally flawed and racist society they envision, that requires mass-penitence and soul-searching, and in effect, must protest itself. That kind of collectivism formed of vague self-image and grand abstraction is useless to real human beings on the ground—to individuals. In this case it will let more individuals get killed, when the killers could be stopped.

“America” needs to be sorted out conceptually instead of blurred, if we want to get serious about solving the problems that occur across that enormous, disparate, and populous land. As I’ve written before, a general population and its power structure are blurred as a matter of institutional interest, hiding how little they have in common behind a “common interest,” and hiding how little control most people really have behind “participation.” Dealing with that ugly secret could be every bit as messy and uncomfortable as cleaning up after a racist past, but unfortunately the work has only earnestly begun on the latter. This isn’t just work ahead of “America,” by the way; it looms over everybody.

Knowledge Matters, Too (Tell the Twin Stories of Violence and Race)

With all due respect to the intentions behind #blackouttuesday and other online hashtag campaigns, a lot of online activism is most effective at making people feel good for participating, and showing “solidarity.” It’s low in cost (of time and effort) to post a black screen on Instagram, or copy a hashtag or slogan, or even mimic activist-talk about representation or voices.

All of that appeals to both those people who want to show off their participation (virtue signaling), and people who genuinely care, and don’t want to make this about themselves, but don’t know how to do better. In a way it doesn’t matter how much we really care, or are showy moral narcissists. Results obtained can completely diverge from either intentions or emotional investment.

It’s just not enough to care about the problem—no matter how much! We have to know what we’re talking about. That is, if we really want to change things. Others can ride along and wave, in the confidence that things are changing, and they are on board. I believe that is naive; I do not believe it will be enough.

First we have to correctly identify the problem, and then, correctly identify how to solve it. There’s no more room for ignorance, or for making errors in this diagnosis. No amount of sympathy, righteous anger, or passion behind a blank black screen makes up for the fact that—it’s blank. Slogans of sympathy and solidarity are simple—too simple. Information-free, low-cost activism is just not as good as spending a bit of time on understanding

  1. the extent of the problem, and
  2. what *specifically* has to change, so that the protest isn’t vague, it has actionable demands. Abstractions and generalities aren’t enough to be practical, when specific principles, laws, organizations, and institutions are at fault, as well as individual people in official positions who can be forced out, only to be replaced.

Sharing information could be a lot more effective for making a difference than Showing We Care—but only if it’s information worth sharing. It’s better to share information, but not if it’s misinformation, or too simplistic to change anything, or just copied thoughtlessly from the usual media or activist discourses about race, hate, and division.

If this sounds a lot more difficult than low-content activism, or sharing information without learning, that’s because it is. It requires your attention. But as it seems that current events in large American cities have your attention and worry preoccupied anyway, there’s no better time.

The amount I can write in one blog post is a sketch, an impression based upon a couple of decades of interest, research, and writing as a dissident. I hope you find the context useful, especially if you have little experience with critical history and alternative political science, or grew up outside the United States. I urge you to read as far as I will write here, and then to follow up more. Look into what I’m about to say, and think for yourself, but then share it. I have no fear at all that the details of the argument can’t bear up under scrutiny, exploration by research, and open-minded thought.

In fact, disgraceful dehumanization only goes on for as long as it does in the world because people aren’t looking, really looking into why—even less than they are paying attention in-between those horrible, singular events that grab their attention, which are not singular at all.

 

Twin Stories to Tell: Power and Racism in America

A lot of people of all backgrounds are coming to understand that America has a problem with systemic racism. This is reflected in multiple practices of the injustice system. (This should be uncontroversial to those of us who are schooled in civil liberties, while possibly being a revelation to others.) Some are left over from the segregationist era, from unfair enforcement to predatory prosecution and inadequate defense, to unfair sentencing. Some are more recent, like mandatory federal sentencing for drug offenses, which have been used disproportionately to incarcerate unconnected black men. (Especially in major cities, where career-minded prosecutors—future politicians—have interests to work together with police to increase conviction numbers.)

But it’s a mistake to think that a divide over race is The Story to tell in answer to the great question, What’s Wrong With America? which is even asked quite frequently overseas.

The other story, which I predict will largely control what happens with that story, is America’s long descent into fascism and empire. America has a problem with Power.

Fascism often involves racism, and racial and/or national supremacy, but the essence of the system was, and is, the combination of the economic system called corporatism—which prioritizes certain financial interests that are well-connected to politicians and policy (like banking, arms dealing, and selling propaganda)—with authoritarianism. In powerful countries like prosperous America (as opposed to, say, fascist Austria), this was, and is, coupled with the desire for a foreign empire.

(Fascism was nothing unique or even new when Mussolini showed up with his one-party popularization of the term. In substance, he just borrowed from older ideas, like mercantilism, and radicalized them. It’s the modern version of colonial imperialism that Britain had, in which colonies were organized to serve mercantile interests which were indistinguishable from the state, like the British East India Company.)

The American descent into an authoritarian system, with its bully mentality towards stubborn individuals and populations both domestically, and worldwide, happened throughout the same period of time as institutional racism. That is, America has descended into fascism and empire ever since post- Civil War Reconstruction-era reforms and migrations mixed other people with the populations who were once enslaved or occupied.

America has become an Empire occupied and controlled by the military and (later) spy bureaucracies, ever since the government sent the Army occupying the South to take the West from natives after the Civil War, and then conquered the remnants of the Spanish Empire before WWI, and finally inherited the British Empire’s world position after WWII, followed by immense Cold War spending on the military-industrial complex. The politics of US Empire, and its worldwide bases, colonies, and alliances with proxy governments, has been dominated by the interest of funding the military, such as war-mongering, especially where it aligns with well-connected corporate interests. (Not all of the rich people in the country, the so-called 1%, most of whom actually lose relative power under a corporatist system, unless they join it.)

America has a militarism problem, which doesn’t only affect people elsewhere in the world, millions of whom have suffered or died in US wars (and sponsored interventions), all around the world, for the last century. US police occupy American cities using surplus military gear and imitate combat tactics: in SWAT teams, celebrated in Hollywood, against protests and riots, and in infamous no-knock raids, also used in war zones. Since 9-11, local cops also coordinate with the feds and “Homeland Security”—that creepy name— in ‘fusion’ command centers, like occupational forces. Even before 9-11, intelligence from spy surveillance authorized for terrorism was illegally used to bust domestic drug-dealers. Increasingly, the assets and mentalities used in the Empire abroad come home, and integrate with police. In many cases, the very same police officers that commit violent crimes against citizens, once wore a military uniform.

Miamiprotestcop2003

As the eventual result of mindsets that accept, encourage, even embrace expansive authority, America has a police-state problem, which threatens *everyone* without connections. Regionally, no doubt some of this system was assembled to enforce segregationist laws, or out of fear of colored minorities and immigrants in cities, but even that doesn’t account for so much.

Especially since 1982, the Supreme Court and other courts have upheld the doctrine and precedents of so-called “qualified immunity.” In practice this almost always shields cops from any consequences, even for the most egregious behavior, when coupled with the major influence of police unions, which have the power to bully mayors of cities like New York.

In addition, the historic rollback of Bill of Rights protections under many more court decisions—for example, gutting protections against search and seizure without warrants—negatively affected everyone (or rather anyone without the power of the State on their side). Cases and precedents have been extensively documented by civil liberties defenders and Constitutionalists of many different political subscriptions.

There’s also the incredible accretion of the size and budgets of federal agencies, such as the FBI and ATF, in the name of law and order. Almost any citizen finds themselves powerless against executive branch agencies which are uncritically called part of law enforcement or the justice system. The FBI in particular has an infamous history of surveillance and infiltration against black organizations, but also other domestic dissenters, and it’s not alone.

In short, when an unconnected person is picked on by the state, they have scarcely more recourse than a colonized person had, under laws, policies, and legal precedents that aren’t just unequally enforced, but stacked against them. Racism absolutely makes this predicament worse for black people, but it doesn’t explain why it happens to so many thousands of others, too. Critics, dissidents, activists, journalists and whistleblowers become particular targets of persecution if they call attention to abuses of power, yet a great many “minding their own business” also find themselves in harm’s way, on the wrong end of the law, or law enforcement.

That’s enough background to identify the problem(s) for one blog post. Let’s get practical about how to solve them. Let’s start to identify some actionable demands:

There have been initiatives to curb militarization of cops to support, and a bill was recently proposed to end qualified immunityDemand that politicians support that bill to end qualified immunity. Make them end that, and other legal and institutional covers for thugs and psychopaths among police. Don’t allow city, state, and national politicians—of both major parties!— to side with police unions. (Don’t vote for them anyway, if they do!)

Now more than 18,000 “law enforcement” organizations lord it over the American public, stealing their salaries from that public’s earnings, padding their budgets with literal highway robbery (“asset forfeiture” and so forth), and usually protected by “qualified immunity” when they kill.—Thomas Knapp

Demand that politicians support decentralizing cops militarized during the War on Drugs and the War on Terror. Demand they stop practices like mass surveillance, and combat tactics, which are used against domestic dissent and people without connections, like black people in inner-city communities. Demand an end to perverse financial and career incentives like asset forfeiture, and rewards for padding arrests or convictions. Demand politicians stop rewarding police bureaucracies with bigger budgets, no matter what they do. (Stop voting for former prosecutors!) Demand an end to federal sentencing minimums and criminalization of drugs, which disproportionately incarcerates black men, but also put 1% of America under the penal system. Demand an end to the “drug war” entirely, which empowers and militarizes cops and feds. Demand an end to US wars abroad, which empower the US state apparatus, dehumanize those who are killed and occupied, and send the mentalities of violence manufactured in wartime (even literally, PTSD) back home.

We all have to demand these things together as human beings. Why?

Power thrives by dividing people. In conflict, scared people follow leaders; in war, they obey leaders no matter how much they hate them. People divided against each other (Black against White, Rich against Poor, Americans against Foreigners) are easier to rule.

It’s not one life at risk from the system I’ve described. It’s not one community at risk. It’s not only one race. It’s not only one class. It’s not even one country. It is everyone. We have to learn to criticize that “authority” together, not as sympathetic observers to someone else’s fight. We have to practice civil disobedience against that authority, the police state, and empire, together, as allies who recognize a mutual interest, as well as human empathy.

If we aren’t divided in our response by buying into a racial divide (or a political divide, or a national divide), we can better resist, and so become freer. If we are free, we cannot be forced down—figuratively or literally—by any old bigot or thug who has a scrap of power that grants “immunity,” or for that matter, “presidential authority.”

Realize that in a free world, the existence of bigots need not trouble the rest of us so much. We could go on with our lives, happily making racism and other bigotries more and more irrelevant by associating peacefully with each other personally and professionally, no matter what we look like or where we were born. In this unfree world, bigots with membership in systemic power or connections to systemic power have the legal or official means to bother us, and kill our friends. They used to pass race-mixing laws; they still discourage non-white immigrants. Worse, the bigots with official means still get away with murders, and protecting murderers—whether it’s on the streets of the Middle East, or on the streets of America.

That’s why the Story of Power in America and abroad, and how America deals with its conflicted problem of power, and national mythology surrounding organized violence—in a nutshell, Americans being ruled while wanting to rule the world, and celebrating it with fly-by jets, even boasting about it—will also finish telling that story of How America Deals With Race that you hear so much of in the media and in activism. One story cannot be told without the other.

 

… continued in next post…

Fear is the Crisis

For many years now, my conviction has been that the great undeveloped area of human education is a suitable understanding and appreciation of human nature, especially commonalities of the mind—the ways in which we habitually think, and what each of these patterns is suited to do, or ill-suited to do.

One consistent challenge is the persistent underestimation of our primate inheritance.

This was assuredly promoted by indoctrinated human exceptionalism. I presume it was exacerbated by entrenched culture that rates the verbal, and the conscious, far above nonverbal and unconscious aspects which come to us from other animals. Consider our silly expectations to rule over more direct sources of habit by mere assertions of intent to change them.

In a nutshell, humans became far too convinced of special status apart from nature—even a power above their own human nature—by virtue of talking. Now, this means more than an appreciation of our having language, which sets us apart. Our talking about things gives us the power to talk at some distance from concrete matters (abstraction), and to talk around things, for we human beings often talk with detachment from phenomena apparent to the senses or the psyche. This has left us—and our ancestors—able to pontificate or freely wish, instead of remaining tethered to phenomenal realities. We “talk our way into” flattering, unlikely, even impossible notions. This is also how our inquisitive ancestors could have missed the obvious about themselves and their origins for so long. It left them able to spin their own rather preposterous stories, talking their way into a divine origin in which we are separate from the mammals and primates we ostensibly resemble in so many respects. Today, talking willfully above the anthropological facts, which are by now carefully-described, allows many people to ignore them, still.

Essentially, all our “human” emotions are shared with primates, as are many other behavioral routines, like political cliques, reading faces and cue-taking within social groups. To start looking for ethological parallels in earnest is to find thousands, and soon realize that the differences comprise exceptions (albeit important ones). Yet the majority of human beings alive on Earth in the 21st century either flout what evolutionary science says about the descent of Man and dispute their relation to the primate mind and brain, or scarcely think of it.

In my view, denial or neglect of our evolutionary mind—the common failure to reckon with the available knowledge, and better explore it—is the incomparable and potentially fatal error of the modern age, which endlessly gets in the way of much else that needs doing. Misunderstanding oneself will wreck every attempt at social change, every time.

Recent hysteria over this year’s coronavirus reminds me of the same lesson that hysteria over “terrorism” did, not so long ago. A strong case can be made for a more specific contention than the above, that the biggest problem of all is not connecting our primate aversion, fear, and panic to our Homo sapiens information-gathering.

In order for those three feelings and deep mental grooves to become useful assets, we must practice feeling them when deserved, and work to maintain perspective. Otherwise they are not only woefully inadequate to navigating in a world more complicated than the environments in which the hominids or hominins evolved, or the Paleolithic in which the genus Homo evolved; they represent active disadvantages instead of adaptive tools of survival.

Ill-placed fears misdirect resources on a grand scale, and make people easy prey for fearmongers. People fear “terrorists” they will never encounter, while they ignore the politicians and bureaucrats who regularly take their property, or the warmongers who endanger their lives in conflicts fueled by unnecessary hostility. It’s worth remembering, in the context of a pandemic, first that “experts” are human and aren’t immune to feeling fear, and second that appealing to fear can pay off for scientists seeking the lifeblood of their labs and careers: grant money. There are professional incentives for accuracy in science, but there are also incentives for alarmism, particularly in politicized fields that depend on public funding (such as ecology, climate, energy, or pandemic vaccines).

Aversion prohibits seeking advantages because they smell different in some sense, seeming alien or foreign. I would file under this the mistrust of infectious people wearing masks to protect others from coughs and sneezes, a typical, considerate east-Asian practice, widely unaccepted in countries like the United States. But exclusion of people based on aversion towards difference is pervasive and peculiar. During my adult lifetime, I’ve frequently encountered people who were suspicious or hostile towards my wearing black clothing, either because their cultural subgroup wouldn’t, or because of incompetent threat identification based on a hysterical media overreaction to a single incident (the Columbine massacre).

Panic manufactures crises where none exist, or deals with a manageable crisis desperately. Both become more and more dangerous with the accretion of technologies that enable people to do things like communicate hysterical exchanges instantly around the world, or cause accidental nuclear winter if war breaks out between powerful rulers.

A good argument can be made that an ongoing failure to modify our instincts for fear using our capacity for knowledge is the salient cultural immaturity squarely in the way of human potential. I would certainly argue that it’s at least the greatest remaining threat to human beings, who show undeniable ability to navigate and manipulate their external environments, societies, and cultures, except when change requires improved navigation of their inner, psychological environments, also.

Because of the powerful gravity those mental grooves exert, and the general boredom with a modern life characterized by anomie (alienation by mismatched values or lack of values) instead of by participation in life and points of connection, we are drawn to dramatic and apocalyptic conclusions, even if they are illogical or untested.

But if anything kills off the human race, it will almost certainly stem from fear or panic reactions that are uninformed, or do not care about gathering useful information. It won’t come from outside; it will come from inside. The older aspects of mind are more powerful than the newer, and in a perceived crisis, the mind defaults to vertebrate or mammalian routines that predate us by a great many millions of years.

Back to this year’s coronavirus pandemic. I’ve recently observed otherwise-reasonable people who conspicuously lack any knowledge of respiratory disease express shock that the coronavirus is “airborne“, as though every cold or influenza virus does not spread through tiny coughed or sneezed droplets of mucous or saliva in the air. They have no doubt heard this as children, but forget it now. (We have already answered why they forget it.)

No more than casual reading about cold and flu season will also tell them that it’s typical for far more people to die from complications of respiratory infections during a typical season than have so-far succumbed to the recent coronavirus.

Or that the usual pattern of respiratory infections is that elderly people (and those with pre-existing cardiac, lung, and immune risk factors) are the most at-risk of fatality. Yet I have seen expressions of shock and suspicion upon discovering that this coronavirus is doing precisely what one ought to expect, at least one aware of a basic fact of human mortality: old and sick people have frequently been killed by respiratory diseases in history, and continue to be killed disproportionately.

Unfortunately this is normal and natural, not evidence of the end of the world, or a conspiracy theory about the virus, or of mismanagement. If anything, we ought really to be grateful for the unnatural progress made in reducing millions of viral and bacterial pneumonia deaths to thousands, thanks to sanitation, vaccinations, and especially, antibiotics.

I have even seen alarm at hearing that this virus may be “mutating.” Well, yes; viruses normally mutate.

None of this potential application of sense to fear I’ve mentioned so far requires sophisticated understanding of epidemiology, virology, or immunology, but of course that could be beneficial. For example, it’s helpful to know that counting severe cases of respiratory disease tends to inflate estimated fatality ratio, because asymptomatic carriers and those with mild symptoms have no reason to seek medical attention (and be counted).

Another example of specific knowledge: knowing about the much more dangerous phenomenon of a disease causing cytokine storm puts the recent coronavirus into perspective. Cytokine storm turns a healthy immune system against the host, and that means that the young are much more likely to die than from a typical respiratory disease that primarily kills the elderly. This is probably one reason the so-called Spanish flu of 1918, caused by H1N1 influenza, was unusually dangerous to young populations, not just the old or sick (another being soldiers and refugees having been packed together in unsanitary, insalubrious conditions). Greater frequency* of this hyper-inflammatory reaction in cases is also thought to be the reason why the SARS outbreak of 2003 (caused by a different bat coronavirus) was a more dangerous infection to acquire than the coronavirus causing the pandemic of 2020. It would be more reasonable for the healthy people under 50 who are currently afraid of the coronavirus to be afraid of catching a flu more likely* to cause cytokine storm, like the H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic that already happened in 2009, or H5N1 (“avian flu”).

The most ludicrous conspiracy theories and accusations out there—those self-contradictory tales of an engineered bioweapon (inexplicably far less deadly than WWII-era bioweapons), of plots to cull humanity so devious they are publicly discussed, of genetic modification to cross coronavirus with HIV fueled by a withdrawn preliminary paper and attempts at antiviral treatment, and the like—are certainly the work of paranoiac mental illnesses. They attract believers already experiencing paranoia and seeking the delusions to fit—the means to rationalize their existing neurogenic experiences—including believers who suffer from bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Like superstitions that perform a similar role, paranoid delusions are confirmed by frenzied apophenia and never to be questioned, much less disproven.

But it would miss the larger point to separate the crazy reaction to a perceived threat from the fearful reactions of sane people, as though one were irrational and the other rational. The former is simply the delusional reaction instead of the suggestible. Both routines may resist being challenged by facts or contrary information, and stubbornly resort to hostility in defense of an assertion. Although this is all the more likely in support of a paranoid delusion, it is a defensive reaction, ego- and turf-driven, that we are all familiar with. One kind of reaction represents the deep end of fear instead of the shallow, but both sorts represent fear being rationalized after the fact, instead of being driven by facts. The exaggerated pathology of the mind blurs into a much more common misdirection of mental labors. These belong on a continuum, and are not opposites, due to the universal primate propensity for anxiety with or without cause.

Fear is human, not anomalous. Its origin is internal—psychological—not external to our person, in some “fearful threat” outside ourselves. We cannot rid ourselves of reflexive fear by projecting it onto a culprit. We must own it, or we shall be possessed.

 

* Edited 3-21 to clarify this may be a relative distinction, not an absolute distinction. I have now seen some mention in ongoing research suggesting that cytokine storm syndrome might develop in some of the severe COVID-19 cases; previously and at the time of writing, it had seemed there were no cases. If this new picture turns out to be accurate, cytokine storm remains an unusual complication in a subgroup among severe cases, and not a typical immune response. Reactions to virus depend on individual immune systems and are not generic.

 

On Hiatus, working on a Mystery Project

I’ve been taking a break from updates about writing my books, because I’m taking a break from writing them. Instead I have been devoting time and effort to a big creative side project that is more in line with what the market currently values and pays for.

(Quite a bit more than my previous attempt to get ideas out into the market by writing a novel, before I learned the hard way about the reactionary tastes—genre, identity, and word count first—of lit agents gatekeeping for the big 5 octopi, err, publishers, or about the glut of manuscripts in NYC for a dwindling literature market.)

This new project, a union of game design and world-building, is still something I don’t consider an artistic compromise—never do that—and don’t worry that I’m wasting my time creating rules and story-telling for a game instead of philosophical-psychological literature. If produced, my game will contribute some value to the cultural hunger for richer myths and engagement with meaningful stories. Also, it does teach valuable insights about life without appearing to do any such thing, for the people averse to education and self-improvement if you use direct words. The same people love “playing a game” and “escaping” to a fantasy world. Without knowing it, they’re already getting ideas about the real world from such activities, and from immersion in imaginary worlds. I’d prefer they have access to a less superficial, more inspired mythos and rules set.

In the long run, I hope this side project will give me the solid financial support to devote my time to important writing in the future, without worry—and more crucially, fund broader access to my work and adequate promotion of it. It does little good for me—especially with my visual disability—to slave away to complete a grand project like The Constellation of Man, or new models for human nature and philosophy of mind, if there isn’t yet a path available for me to publish and promote all this (and more) properly.

Forgotten corners of the internet might host far more substance than social media does, but I can’t be satisfied with enlightened obscurity and a pat on my back for knowing better. (For me, opening other minds and enriching other lives is the greater accomplishment, without which, I almost feel that my creative and philosophical life has been conducted in a sort of exile, plotting a return.) It matters what other people see, and learn, and internalize—especially when the desert needs water. The world needs genuine humanism now more than ever, and it’s always been my mission not only to develop better ideas, but find a way to communicate them.

This has led me down a meandering path, no question, but these are strange times, are they not?

PS. I might throw some aphoristic content or other short-form excerpts online here in the meantime if I can’t help it. I’ve missed expressing myself as a philosopher as I’ve worked on **********, and I have quite the unpublished backlog, besides.

[EDIT: expanded, with more background info.]

In Defense of… [on thoughtful critiques of ‘The Cult of Letters’]

Not long ago I was writing some notes for The Constellation of Man about certain self-deceits of abstract thinkers, and in particular—to put a page of discussion succinctly—why philosophers (in a broad sense) feel accomplished about verbal descriptions of the world that do not match it. Even writing about false models yields an inward sense of order, and (like scientific knowledge) some sense of control over the world or orientation within it.

Every time I make a case along these lines—about the limitations of language, or against relying on any intensive subculture & psychological type built on systematic thought (e.g. men of letters, academics, scientists, philosophers)—it is intended to be constructive, in my Nietzschean fashion. But resistant, worrisome notions do spring to mind:

  • that I am going against the grain of defenses of the “life of the mind” which intellectuals tend to write today, in possibly-vain attempts to popularize it;
  • that attacks on dumbed-down culture depend on endorsements of linguistic and mental prowess that I could be seen as undermining;
  • that I am aiming at easy, marginalized targets—groups which have included or still include myself;
  • that I might be read as though I’ve succumbed to the pervasive disease of self-disgust.

It’s difficult not to write in solidarity with a marginalized group that one belongs to. I am keenly aware of writing for (against?) a modern audience, a quasi-literate world, which largely rejects my kind.

By “my kind,” I don’t simply mean intellectuals in the enterprising sense.

This world barely knows what to do with a generalist, the “Renaissance man” who once would have occupied essential roles, and renders almost every deep thinker an outsider if not an outcast. This has become so normalized they do not imagine their abilities could ever be welcomed. People dislike introspection, shrug at philosophy, and dismiss challenging literature. Intellectuals have few opportunities that pseudo-intellectuals have not taken. Fakes thrive in a culture tolerant of superficiality, and selling-out. The “literary world” is replete with an embarrassment of writers who should not have bothered, inspired by third-hand moral notions from ideologues, and boring formulae for creativity. Quantity proliferates while investing in quality seems pointless or quixotic. “Philosophers” are either dead, academic, or popularizers recycling old ideas. (Admittedly the sometimes-aligned categories of psychologists and scientists are more popular categories and aspirations, but these oftener refer to technical professions that don’t have much to do with being a “thinker.”)

My kind are infrequently persecuted today, but only because we are hardly seen. We feel as if we are, but much more to the point, we are ignored when we crusade, and superfluous in our hiding places.

What I do, and what I stand for has no purchase in a world that seeks not the transformative power of understanding, but nodding in agreement, and vituperative argument. The outspoken detest nuance and repel curiosity. Elitist snobs, smug about nothing more accomplished than a highfalutin philistinism, look down on the coarse folk who are proud to spite them with the lowbrow kind.

Everywhere we witness the unspiritual work of the uncreative, uninterested in profound human experience, and worse, contemptuous of it. Humanism no longer means anything useful. It is a world which has left behind both the apolitical (or antipolitical) values of culture, and the virtues of Man.

So I feel that I should stand up for philosophy, for genuine intellectuals, for long thoughts and real books. I am very sympathetic.

But I see it as part of my task to sincerely address the limitations of words and the foibles of thinkers. It may have to come across as self-effacing, when I least wish to be.

Struggling to grasp and to tell discomfiting but important truths is one of the distinctive habits that sets us apart from other people—if “we” aim to be more than merely literate or articulate, and also aim to question things. Certainly the great many who believe what suits them do not relate to that habit, or appreciate it.

As far as claiming an identity, however, I think it is more important that turning that microscope toward ourselves distinguishes those of us who pursue genuine intellectual, psychological or philosophical effort from poseurs, who only retell the familiar truths they already overcame, knowing they might disturb or uproot someone else.

I count among these the “skeptics” who feel no duty to be skeptical of their own convictions. Those who no longer challenge their own justifications while they challenge others to reexamine theirs are more properly referred to as moralist than intellectual in any progressive or inquisitive sense.

In any case, the unexamined limitations of thinkers, and of philosophy—especially second- or third-hand ideas, in academia, journalism, and authorship of popular media—have poisoned or imperiled so much progress, there is far more at stake than being true to oneself in the tradition of thinkers with an intellectual conscience.

Scribes

The Cult of Letters

Intellectuals have long wished for other people to agree with them about the value of verbal ideas in themselves. They prefer a life of ideas, so their affinity is natural. Of course they also have an interest in bringing ideas to others, and interpreting them for others, for the status and influence it brings. At the same time they have some interest in opacity, not unlike that of priests who interpret the enigmas of a mystical religion. Intellectuals do not wish for transparency about their motives, and they do not wish to have their value questioned. They are no freer of ego than anyone else, as a rule, and no more disposed to introspection.

Questions are reasonable. What is the value of books, beyond selling books? What is education for, besides enlarging the industry of education, or providing technocrats able to perpetuate a system? What can language change? When we talk about things, what are we really accomplishing? Are we really getting to the bottom of anything? Is an intellectual life more profound than, say, a visceral life, or a life spent in nature? Is “book learning” more important to self-development than say, sexuality, or traveling?

What specific and personal reasons could an intellectual have for the ideas they subscribe to, other than the neutrality, objectivity, or intelligence they prefer to presume? More importantly, what will paying attention to what they say bring to someone who does?

What is the point of philosophy or philosophers, besides their own purposes, interest, fascination, or importance? Why should others pay attention to something they write, instead of—for instance—learning an ostensibly more practical skill? Why should it hold more value than say, manufacturing a better refrigerator, shipping trade goods, or planting a nice garden?

(I believe I know the long and unflinching answers to questions of this sort, but my point is that it’s truly extraordinary not to ask them. How usual, yet how egregious of the intellectual ilk to simply feel entitled to respect from others, like an aristocrat or bureaucrat, without earning it by doing serious work and making a real contribution to  life. A contribution need not be measurable, or quantifiable, or immediate, or tangible, but surely one could explain it, or demonstrate it, if it were real.)

Making a case for Art instead of mere entertainment bears a similar burden of proof. Art diverts personal, temporal, material, and financial resources to be lavished upon its creation, and appreciation. Art is difficult, and it makes demands. Why a troublesome mental exercise instead of a diverting story? If the mental exercise is our diverting story, we think the answer is straightforward: art, surely, should speak for itself. The artist, whose creative experience is so profound, also thinks art should not need justification, as does the aesthete. But art does not speak for itself, except to those who are already convinced by their emotion and perception.

We deceive ourselves to think that—unearned—a civilizational value like self-knowledge, or the means of the written word, speaks to those who have never known its worth personally. Justification is precisely what we must provide, if we wish to make the extraordinary case that our business, our cause, our purpose, our great project should become the business of others who presently see a perplexing waste where we recognize a necessary investment. Why should others who see an abstraction where we feel much more, join us and devote themselves to furthering its reality in some way, or support us in our work to do so?

It’s tempting, sometimes necessary, to write defenses of what is being lost. What is really called for is not idealization of these things, or of the types of people who are already persuaded by them, but first: transparency in admitting why certain people might already be won over. Sometimes, they have a liking as instinctive as any other. Unflatteringly, they might have motives as aggrandizing or indulgent as any.

Second, and only after establishing credibility with the first: communication which deepens the shallow appreciation others have. Demonstrate the value of a life, if you wish others to adopt any part of it.

If a philosopher is drawn to philosophize partly for the benefit of setting his mind in order—comparable to what practicing yoga does for others—this makes a surprising argument for learning to think in just such an ordered (precise, careful, or systematic) way—if not specifically as a philosopher, then as a critical thinker, perhaps under the label of a scientist.

(I remember hearing this sort of argument made for studying classical languages, back in prep school—in the traditional, philological manner, with formal grammar and linguistics. I thought it strange at the time, but in retrospect, it makes excellent sense to me. Even as the specifics of a Latin and Greek education fell into disuse in my memory, habits of explicit mental order continued to be useful.)

Another illustration: a poet is almost certainly a pretentious thing to be, a verbose and vestigial role about as vital as an appendix, to anyone who has not written poetry because they felt it—or else, heard their sense of life echoed in poetry, having understood that imagery and cadence are the birthrights of a tongue.

We are used to disingenuously speaking of the social good, instead of the personal good, when the personal good can be an easier case to make and a more persuasive one. Societal virtues from “creativity” to “learning” remain abstract, until they can be personally appreciated. That is true even if consequences of eroding a virtue—for enough people to fail to express it personally—are grave. The utilitarian argument for a virtue is weak by itself. Imagine the position of defending “romance” that way to someone who had never felt it!

A brief digression: conversely, what if the consequences for neglect are not dire? The same exercise of demonstration—of including others to understand, or at least participate in what they are missing—indicates selective importance when it is not persuasive; people find out what they are missing, and it is not much.

Narrow intellectual interests that have been claimed, justified, even trumpeted as “socially relevant” turn out to have relevance to a very few who articulate them. These have marginal importance to “society,” as this is comprised of nothing other than actual people. Personal knowledge obtained from familiarity is a valid microcosm of consequence, albeit incomplete.

Like an aesthetic that appeals to a certain type, some subjects are trivial and dispensable to anyone else who gets to know them. They aren’t merely specialized areas of expertise that are useful to others indirectly, like engineering—a fact which familiarity with the subject would reveal. They turn out to be extrinsic to civilizational needs, as well as the marrow of human pursuits.

(As an aside, I would argue that a case of precisely this is ongoing, as ideas about “identity” originating in academic cul-de-sacs reach a larger audience, third-hand, through mass-produced fiction with a see-through agenda, and internet media. To be lectured tastes like bitter medicine, particularly without the coating of a good story, or a dramatic proposal. But more than this, a wider audience finds these ideas themselves inapplicable, vacuous, or tiresome instead of liberating or redemptive [like any resounding myth]. The interested group may have expected to acquire importance like the medical experts the public willingly deputizes at great expense to cure disease; we need not understand the details to believe that specialists studying them conduct valuable work. Promulgators of identity politics may have hoped to awaken others to an ethic, or hoped to inspire existential discovery, much as promoters of class theory had hoped. Instead, today their diagnostics of “identity” are revealed to be—for most intents and purposes—neither remedial for social problems, nor inspiring to most individuals, as interesting as they seem to a self-appointed group.)

I see it as my task to show many of the virtues I wish were more prevalent, so they can be believed. I see it as my task to lay bare faults that can be remedied only if we are pointed to them, but also to concretize these things—like “the life of the mind”—that devotees want others to see as magical, too, and describe with an air of gnosis, things which more often appear unreal to others and therefore unconvincing.

If we claim anything as a pure good—as people have done with comprehensive knowledge, subversive knowledge, and every approach to “truth”—people will know this for a lie. They will suspect we are being vague about why it is a good at all, because it is not good for much. They can even dispute its substance completely, except as our favorite form of frippery, which they have no need of. Perfection is unconvincing.

Without acknowledging that there presently exists great skepticism, and perhaps for good reasons, toward many of the expensive, strange, troublesome, sometimes self-sacrificial values that generalists, artists, outsiders, crusaders, mavericks, psychologists, intellectuals, thinkers and philosophers take for granted, we will never convince those who subscribe to specialized, bourgeois, materialistic, literal, popular, and conventional values today that they are deprived—nor (as I believe) that they are taking terrible risks with the future, and with things that matter to everybody. This is a case we can make only by earning the right to make it.

We should be willing to say “Perhaps they are right!” and even dare to say, “Maybe what I am doing is useless, or unimportant,” or at least wonder in what particular ways that might be so. There is no other way but to admit the possibility, and entertain it provisionally, so that the impractical can be shown to be practical—or so that it can be made so by developing it with greater substance, relevance, and honesty than before. Unproductive occupation, and trivial preoccupations can be abandoned, so that other lines can be taken up with energy.

These are the gifts of criticism. Centuries of cloistered assurance and praise have enfeebled the life of the mind, gutted the profession of the philosopher (except for those who followed Nietzsche, who reformed by asking the hard questions), and debased literature and intellectualism.

With all our technology, we are scrabbling for the stuff to repair civilization, mixing one mortar after another that will not hold. I would not ignore those who do not trust thinkers (as they know them), or value thinking deeply. I would listen to people who are not satisfied by ideas today sooner than I would blame them.

We should keep asking the same questions they do, on the face of it: “What good is it?” And good for whom, and good for what?

This is a radical impulse, instinctively resisted by those who are invested in depth and complication. Nevertheless, it is a good one intellectuals neglect. They will not hear it. Their habitual inner rejoinder is always, “if only you knew the depth and complication I do!”

The doubts and questions seem superficial—and they are—when (as the intellectual knows) they are challenges that come from simplicity, from unfamiliarity with intellectualism, and ignorance of that “depth and complication.”

In fact, it is the intellectual who can take the doubts and questions deeper, enrich them, and fulfill their exploration, which is so essential; a life of study, and working with ideas, is essential to knowing how to question itself properly, and not just essential for instructing others. But insofar as carrying on with these simple, pragmatic questions appears to be a quest to destroy oneself—to undermine a reason for being, to unmask triviality, to obsolete oneself—the intellectual refuses to take it up seriously. The intellectual calls those simplistic questions.

In fact, so many intellectuals resist explaining themselves as clearly as they can—preferring the obfuscation of jargon, and to write in academic formats—that it suggests genuine, existential doubts about what and how much they really have to say, and even their professions. Do they know what they are good for, and why anyone else should care? Confidence does not always mean a reason to feel confident, and of course many poor amateurs with ideas convert credentials into popular books or platforms. But the lack of confidence to speak clearly and speak out oftentimes suggests the construction of elaborate and preposterous facades to distract—from what? Perhaps, from foundations that no one looks forward to testing. Perhaps from a Potemkin village, or a show city for no one to really live in. Perhaps also a construction project that is continually built, ripped down, and rebuilt so that its architects and laborers have eternal work.

Those who work, in some sense, to build civilization would not be afraid to say so, or at least to take pride in their part of it. Otherwise, people will rightly suspect this is not their business, at all. Creators who have a promise to fulfill, and a humanistic reason to act, would not be reluctant to explain how and why.

Excerpt: memento mori from Attention to Ordinary Revelations

A brief excerpt from Attention to Ordinary RevelationsPart 2 (of 8) from Book I of Volume I, in The Constellation of Man. I wrote this part several years ago. Today I decided to show it as a preview in October, the month of Halloween and Samhain, a time of both harvest fertility and cyclic transition into fallowing darkness, that may stimulate as much reflection and imagination as we allow. —CPB


Totentanz_Lübecker_Bernt_Notke detail

Detail from destroyed 1701 copy of Lübecker Totentanz, a tapestry by Bernt Notke c. 1463.

In acclimation to our lives, we forget remarkable things about them.

We forget the fragility of our own bodies—until our brief interval of youthful vitality and resilience ebbs, and we are reminded by pain or dysfunction. Some confront their vulnerability because of injury. Some are reminded by punctuated illnesses that their bodies could succumb. Some are surprised by inherited conditions in anatomy they once trusted to remain a silent servant. Some only learn later, from the ailments of aging. 

Still, on a daily basis living biology pulls away from existential realization. 

We are even induced to forget the stunning revelation of our own personal mortality. Instinct blurs reproduction with survival, to the blind benefit of progeny, also effecting genetic replication. Most want offspring—a family like themselves. Some adopt and promote other things like themselves. Many presume to survive through subordination to causes, including family, or more removed mythology.

Das_Jüngste_Gericht_(Memling)

Das Jüngste Gericht or The Last Judgement, painted by Hans Memling, 1466–1473.

Death—when recognized—becomes a word, a metaphor, an entity to haunt us, a god, a waiting judge, an anticipated afterlife or reincarnation, even an enemy to defeat—anything instead of a name for the time when our organism will no longer renew itself, and will rot; also the end of experience. Man would rather personify an inhuman notion.

Danse_macabre_by_Michael_Wolgemut

Danse Macabre, woodcut by Michael Wolgemut, 1493

For any proper, thorough appreciation of death must terrify any ego, rooted in place, time, and a particular identity of things. It is far more difficult to accept dissolution of bodily integrity and annihilation of mental experience in an indifferent universe, than a universe governed by some interested or humanized order.

Even secular views make death an event, if secularization does not also mask sentiments very like those of religious descent. Often, we return to casting death as an enemy. Not only do we long to erode “the undiscovered country” by living longer, we also wish to overcome mortality through permanent advances in medical science—useful, but also another way to diminish self-effacing transience evident in the world all around us, and make it seem manageable.

Shiva_as_the_Lord_of_Dance_LACMA_edit

Shiva Nataraja in bronze, Chola dynasty India, 10th century. The Lord of Dance personifies the rhythm of creation and destruction—of both cosmic forms, and human illusions.

We forget that the measure of what we call time becomes apparent as changing phenomena, not by any numerical scale, nor by formal repetition of cycles (seasons, sunrises, moons) which have also governed the imagination of time. The ideas of numbers and cycles make transience seem regular. Time does not pass without transformation. Time marks the metamorphosis of things that are always going to become. “Time” is human, temporary; the universal flow of changing phenomena is never-ending, undelimited, and unfathomable—except as the erosion and vanishing and re-creation of things we can recognize. These things, and the loss of them, become remarkable to us.

In our towns and cities, we see each other going about our lives on the street, riding in vehicles, and inhabiting buildings. We observe animate life around us—trees and green plants swaying in the wind, animals walking and flying. We do not think of how the material of each living thing we see has had many other forms, has recombined uncountable times as trees, plants, animals, fungus, bacteria, through rot, consumption, growth, reproduction and birth. We do not see the other identities of the matter of that flesh and bone before us.

On the faces we see around us we may think we see the lines of the past. In the craggiest old faces we mark an instant of the geologic ocean of time in which the rocks themselves flow in shape, and wrinkle in furrows and mountain ranges. We do not envision the soils and silts through which the stuff of each human face has passed.

Excerpt: secrecy versus security; how information protects

Julian Assange WikiLeaks Publisher - The Numbers

It’s early days yet on the following preview excerpt from The Constellation of Man, but I wanted to publish something in support of the world’s greatest political prisoner (if only because the work he began empowers so many other dissidents). He is the founder of WikiLeaks and inventor of the only viable model for a free and independent press I can imagine in today’s world. He saw the need for 1) anonymous and secure submissions by whistleblowers, 2) publishing original source docs (unredacted) “so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth,” 3) actively protecting sources like Edward Snowden, and 4) broad, not beholden fundraising. Julian Assange, already of victim of many years of dirty tricks and concerted attempts at suppression by powerful state agencies and major corporations who fear public disclosures, currently languishes in effective solitary confinement in the Ecuadorean embassy in London. For 63 days now, his internet has been jammed and visitors blocked by the government that agreed to give him asylum and citizenship. Of course he is still targeted, surveilled and surrounded by agents ready to snatch him should he go outside. He is trapped, which has been the case for years. This for the crime of publishing freely and effectively on serious matters (unlike media compromised by financial interests). WikiLeaks thereby informs a public often thankless, or easily led to be vindictive, if they gullibly believe standard smears used in psyops against perceived enemies of states. It’s clear that many remain naive about the systems Assange tries to lay bare, clueless about their likewise precarious position, and even servile in the interests of the powerful who rule them. Despite all his maltreatment—which only vindicates and shows the need for Wikileaks’ mission “We open governments”—Julian has persevered, at appalling personal cost and risk. I doubt that any man living is more deserving of celebration as a popular hero. While I allow him human foibles (especially under such pressure), he is certainly a hero to me for what he has accomplished, speaking as a humanist, dissident, and human being. I have no doubt that a future that civilized people manage to create one day will owe Julian Assange a debt. The following excerpt undertakes to explain why he is correct in his theory of information, and the establishment case for secrecy is profoundly wrong. —CPB


GOVERNMENTS CLOSE, and restrict information in proportion to the factors of their centralization, and dominance.

Instead of an absolute, this describes an intention. The human factors of incompetence to keep secrets or incapacity to control information limit governments to obsessive undertakings. Just as reality has deprived rulers of the absolute power they claimed, when it came to molding the actual world to their desires, even autocratic or totalitarian systems have remained permeable. Certainly, every imperial republic with limited freedom of information and speech has been a sieve. Every breach pokes a hole in the pretense of state omniscience.

Mentality set in motion what incentives and motives perpetuate: the desire for a closed government empowered with secrecy and obfuscation.

The seed mentality for secretive policy was laid down long before any state’s military preeminence over rivals or bureaucratic centralization, because the deceitful rise high in a hierarchy of officials, bureaucrats, or rulers, all those who fancy themselves masters or servants of a public collective.

Their habit is mistrust, befitting those who are never true. They expect similar insincerity, fraudulence, and deception from the world. Remember that a megalomaniac can scarcely infer a mind unlike his or her own. To unscrupulous careerists, all are ambitious, dishonest, and engaged in a slow struggle against the world. Otherwise others must be fools—or relegated to the rank of pawns, among many. Therefore, in their relentless maneuvers they remain wary of shadows and likenesses who cannot be trusted, either. Fearing others’ strength, leery of others’ rise at their expense, they vaunt to mask their own vulnerability, the narcissist’s hollowness which delusions of grandeur and power cannot make replete.

Entrenched, established, they set up concentric rings of mistrust, from their own agitation for aggrandizement versus rivals, further outward, against clique, faction, or party, and further, to unseen enemies abroad, who bear the worst and most exaggerated projections and scapegoating. It is this mindset that sets the tone for an official culture that wishes to hide behind fortress walls, opaque to everyone outside.

The would-be lords of a realm set up means to hoard information like misers, because they seek an advantage over enemies—real or invented, or to hide their own misdeeds from those they claim to safeguard. The ethos of spies and public lies followed as an instrumental necessity of both—and as a consequence of mentality, intensified by fear, hysteria, and obsession echoing within closed halls of power and bastions of bureaucracy.

They claim that secrecy protects—an article of faith. They hold military secrets to be especially sacrosanct, and inviolable on penalty of espionage or treason. Well-trained authoritarian instincts, which become the rule under a domineering state, reflexively proclaim the right and necessity of state security, and cite the exigencies of the military. This obsequious defense answers any doubt.

The logic of public secrecy presupposes that the fates of ruler and ruled are, more than intertwined, a single bloc; as goes the ruling system, so goes the people. Thus “national security,” the security of empire, of imperial interests shared by rulers, is supposed to ensure the security of the people. [In the extremity of this rationale, the doctrine of total war which has been a plank of imperial nationalism, the population form a reserve army of the state, working to supply logistic needs if they do not fight. All share the same destiny or downfall, in this concept. To the contrary, conscripts in a universal army endure much that its commanders do not.]

 

RATHER, the flow of information protects people from their rulers, who occupy an immediate position to do them harm. 

Transparency opens governments to wider criticism, of which they are intolerant, of cruelty, brutality, officiousness, rapacious corruption, and indifference, and of the double standards which the powerful and their enforcers enjoy, such as effective immunity from prosecution under the same laws they use against others.

Official secrecy and privileged access keep the confidence of the furtive state, hiding personal misdeeds and policy failures under the unquestioned protections of classified information. Imbued with seriousness, this works effectively, together with public fear—fear of punishment for knowing, and the vaguer fear of “the wrong hands” to have information. Yet knowledge of the wrong hands who are already in power, already unworthy of the one-sided trust placed in them, would be quite specific and not so speculative.

Knowledge would be a means to gain insight into the nature of those who seek to rule others, instead of governing themselves. To know rulers with sufficient knowledge is to dispute their fitness to rule. Therefore, ruling systems employ misinformation and propaganda systematically to exclude “their own people” from inside knowledge, more than an enemy. 

Even insiders isolate themselves from [contradictory] knowledge and self-knowledge; for they are too closed in, and too comfortable with loyal falsehoods. An indoctrinated propagandist does not have the clear, cynical awareness of fooling other people, despite keenness to say (and half-believe) whatever serves their cause. Rulers themselves believe in their own mythology. Note that it is very possible for those with no aptitude for truthfulness, and no reinforcement of telling the truth at a personal cost, to believe in specific lies they tell. They will bow to a mandatory correction of transparency if they must, just as matter-of-factly as they will tell uncorrected lies when they are allowed.

 

OPENNESS additionally provides strategic protection at a broad scale, precisely the security that institutions modeled on comprehensive secrecy are supposed to provide for a society, by bracing for conflict across territorial or factional lines. 

The flow of information protects all people, whether they fall under the designation of “ally” or “enemy,” from dangerous uncertainty over military intent and relative power, which is caused by keeping secrets. It is they who will be the casualties of wars sought out of grave miscalculation. In the history of militarized states, the greatest defeats and mutual disasters of all have demonstrably happened from miscommunications of intent, and poor estimates of strength, not from clearer and freer knowledge. Ultimately, the flow of information protects people from accidental extinction through military miscalculation, the foolish end which may easily befall a group, or the species, until the de-militarization of human society.

Even in decentralized society, it is knowing the threat posed by an individual or organization that saves others from harm, and those who seek to do harm with impunity will try to keep secrets for the purpose. A murderer tries to keep his intent secret. One with malicious intent can be overwhelmed by many. Imagine also a scenario of local people relying on themselves, instead of a state. A gang among them who sought to dominate their pacific neighbors by force would surely make use of conspiracy, knowing they would likely be thwarted if there were warning to form a defensive league against their plans.

Much the same applies to large-scale society broken up by states, each with rulers proposed as “government.” In conditions in which intentions and capacities are more likely known far and wide, instead of walled off elaborately, they are more likely to find balance in mutual security, because those who are threatened have the ability to collaborate with alacrity. Identification of aggressors is more possible with knowledge of the intentions of rulers, and the relative capacities of state militaries. Combined defense against aggressors is more likely possible. Those who cannot defend themselves are more likely to know whom they must accommodate in order to survive. Futile wars happen out of ignorance.

The degree of centralization under a hierarchy is a societal flaw and strategic liability that obstructs the corrective network of information-sharing, and undermines the available distributed means for security, which include mutual collaboration, and awareness of genuine threats. At the same time, leaders’ infectious mindfulness of insecurity and concomitant pursuit of military dominance jeopardize peace through the provocation, or creation of enemies. Military antagonism demands secrecy, and an organization better able to constrain information, through centralization. The combination builds dangerously, like a runaway mechanism. Imperial states are the most unsafe, cursed with both (top-heavy bureaucratized states, and supreme, blundering military ambitions). About empires, the most tumultuous history has been written.

The logic that secrecy protects must be turned on its head. The advantage conferred by secret tactics in the field should not be mistaken for a comprehensive policy which is strategic for a society’s way of life. The same strategy of espousing communication that opens cloistered and controlled societies to commerce, trade, and prosperity also contributes to literal survival.

Global and regional security is not a game played by opponents, who must deceive each other. That is a lesson of conquerors and political rivals, brutes and paranoiacs, and the world they made. For people who are not concerned with their own power, mutual security is put at risk by the very presumption of opposition, instead of the construction of mutual interests in peace—through trade, communication, and other means to facilitate interaction and familiarity.

A universal society of people espousing shared information works to include more people, and de-emphasizes enmity. A closed society defending distinctions and lines with secrets and lies exacerbates it.