France Insoumise

In recent years, smaller parties such as « France Insoumise » [Roughly, ‘France Undefeated*’] have argued that declining voter turnout represents a rejection by the French of the present ‘5th Republic’ and that there must be a constitutional convention to sketch out the ‘6th.’ It’s difficult to argue that they don’t have a point.

On Sunday, France saw the lowest turnout since the sixties of only 75.30% (The current election system dates to 1965.)

I’m envious.

In the last election, U.S. turnout was a measly 55.5%; this is fairly average for the last two centuries, sadly. Clearly, change is needed.

In recent discussions I have detected no appetite for structural change, only a short-term “stopping of Trump.” But let’s look at the big picture so we don’t have this problem again in 4-8 years.

I know that some of my friends may disagree that Trump needs to be stopped but lay that aside for a moment and ask yourself, why did you vote for Trump? Because of structural rot in the system. Because the government was captivated by interest groups and not responsive to your needs. But if we do not address the structural rot that leads to depressing choices that make people not show up this will not even seem significant compared to what is to come.

We must…

  • Switch to ‘ranked preference voting’ for the Executive Offices, including the presidency (AKA ‘Instant Runoff Voting,’ this was recently adopted in Maine and there are videos on the internet which explain how the “instant runoff” works.)
  • Switch to mixed-member-proportional voting for state and House elections. (This is used in New Zealand and there’s a video from the NZ Electoral Commission which explains this very well.)
  • Return to an appointed federal Senate and do away with state Senates.
  • Make voting mandatory and do away with ‘voter registration,’ instead people will be automatically registered on a time-delay when they file for Social Security (I.E. at birth.)
  • Ban legislature controlled redistricting and switch to mathematically defined redistricting such as “Shortest Split Line Method.” (The Left often overstates the degree to which gerrymandering skews elections, but it nonetheless occurs and it is repugnant.) And finally….. the BIG one….
  • Term limits! Presidency: 1 6-year term, no reelection. Senate: 2 8-year terms. House: 3 4-year terms. Supreme Court: 10 years.

* A lot of newspapers are rendering it “France Indomitable,” mainly because it begins with “I,” but that’s wrong that’d be « France Indomptable » . If we wanted to be puckish we could also translate it as “Contumacious France…” 😉

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Computer Dream

I have a theory. And it is just a theory, I’m spitballing not researching so let’s not get carried away here. But…

I hypothesize for the purpose of discussion that the real purpose of all these fake news stories is not exactly to deceive us, but rather to place us unto an epistemic fugue state in which truth and falsity commingle to such an extent that the question of ‘what is true’ and ‘what is false’ is lost.

In order to do this, these sites circumvent the gatekeepers who normally keep garbage out of circulation (the much and somewhat wrongly derided ‘mainstream media’) by exploiting the network effect.

After all, if one is to see a wild, wild lie mixed in with the truth, is it not possible that the presence of this lie would impeach the credibility of the truths rather than the truths’ presence falsely bolstering the credibility of the lie?

If I give you a list of five claims, one a clear lie and the others undetermined, wouldn’t you then presume that the accuracy of the 4 remaining claims is in doubt. If I lie once, might I not lie again?

And, If we do not know what is true and what is untrue might we then be more susceptible to non-rational forms of persuasion?

So, an obvious question is ‘who is behind these fake news sites?’ In some cases it is clear that it is Trump associates. Brietbart’s head honcho Stephen Bannon is a key Trump adviser. In some cases it appears to be bored teenagers, but in many cases (including many of the latter cases which seem at least slightly suspect to me) it is unclear, particularly with the small ones.

The most probable answer is that it is Trump. Either the Trump campaign or arms-length bodies or advocacy groups. Many of the site’s DNS registration information is hidden, the sites are registered on behalf of the real owners by proxy companies. (This is a perfectly legitimate and commonplace business.)

But… let’s go really far down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole for just a moment here.

Could it be Russia?

Why Russia? Well, because simply put something very similar is happening in Russia.

In the Soviet Union, everything was fake. Everyone knew it was fake but everyone pretended that it was not. To do otherwise was crimethink. In modern Russia, everything is still fake. Or more accurately, everything is postmodernist. Because now, everyone accepts that it is fake and just moves on.

The chief of fakery is Vladislav Surkov. He is Mr Putin’s gray eminence but also writes lyrics for rock bands and avant garde poetry. I’m not joking. He also is generally thought to have written a novel about himself and what he is doing under a pseudonym which is a masculinized version of his wife’s maiden name.

Surkov sponsors everyone and everything, even the political opposition at times. yet, everyone knows. According to the dissident writer Eduard Limonov, the strategy is based on keeping the opposition constantly confused. The political system relies on everyone being unsure of what is actually happening and what is not. Is even the opposition real? Who knows!

Surkov speaks of ‘nonlinear warfare.’ Once there were many groups in two sides (Axis vs Allies, NATO vs. the Warsaw Pact.) Now, everyone is against everyone.

One of the jobs of News is to expose fakes. But News can only expose things which are hidden. How is that supposed to work? Does Fact Checking work when hardly any effort is made to hide that it isn’t really so? How does one get any purchase against nothingness?

Maybe this is not true. Maybe ideas of Russian influence are a form if cranky nonsense cum wishful thinking.

(How would we know?)

But even if it is not, even if the usefulness to those of power and wealth of this postmodernist fog that has settled on our lives is a coincidence, it is still a huge problem.

The Traditional Critique is that Newspapers are dying because advertising has moved online. This is partially true. But, I think that it misses the fundamental point that the truth binary no longer is a major feature of a huge number of people’s daily lives. Since that is what newspapers sell, why buy them?

We feared, once, that we would create a computer world, upload ourselves into the dream and forget who we were. That, I think was optimistic, not dystopian.

The real dystopia is that we don’t have to do any such thing in order to find ourselves in a reality of illusion. We don’t have to upload ourselves to the computers to become lost in them.

One of the oldest traditions is the sacred knowledge. That there is some esoteric ‘truth’ that only the ‘chosen’ few can understand and so slip the surly bonds of earth and touch the face of god.

Even seemingly completely secular systems can have this silly feature. Marxists called it ‘dialectical materialism’ and Abraham Mazlow called it ‘self-actualization.’

I believe that exactly idea is what is found in optimistic science fiction such as The Matrix and World on a Wire. And that is why I call it ‘optimistic,’ because it asserts the existence of a true world into which the properly initiated can awaken. And so, I think impliedly it stimulates our secret desire to believe that not only is there is something beyond our own experience but that all of the things which we hate about our world are just nightmares, from which we can awaken without actually doing anything.

This is not so. Neo can’t wake up.

The imaginary seems real because it is real.

If this sounds totally hopeless and depressing, however, remember that a dream is like a train which goes on its course and which cannot be turned to one side or another. You cannot change a dream, not even in theory. But you can, theoretically, change the world.

We just have to discover how.

PS: there were traces, and just traces, of the miasma around Mr Obama, particularly during the first campaign. But isn’t it weird that the first truly hyperreal postmodernist candidate is a Republican?

Syria, the Graveyard of the Notion of ‘Human Rights’

Wall Street JournalKerry Says Russia and Syria Should Be Investigated for War Crimes

Syria is the Graveyard of notional “Human Rights”. The philosopher* Hannah Arendt declared that human rights did not exist because nobody could enforce them against the will of state sovereignty. Civil rights, she argued, are not real natural rights the way we are accustomed to thinking about them but arise because we are members of some polity which gives these rights effectiveness and affordability.

In contrast, ‘human rights’ are supposed to exist solely by nature: by existing in humanity itself. However, if our ‘human rights’ are abused, we have no recourse to enforce them—therefore, human rights are just civil rights. And, if civil rights are not being enforced then there is no possibility of human rights being enforced either: they are illusory and ineffective.

* She described herself as a political theorist but her ideas transcend those limits and enter the domain of true philosophy as well.

Why Britain should not exit the E.U.

If I was British, I would vote to stay. I say this not because the E.U. is good and nice and stuffed with flowers and candies and such. The EU is a hideous abortion, an unaccountable, dysfunctional clusterjerk, an undemocratic Chancellery of weakness doubled upon futility.

But I say this because reform is not impossible, indeed it has never seemed more possible and in the interim, come what may, the U.K. has a permanent opt-out of the worst part of the E.U.: The Euro. The Euro is economically impossible. You simply cannot have a situation in which fiscal and monetary policy are so wildly unrelated.

For example the European Central Bank (ECB) cannot buy EU-member state’s bonds, except in proportion. Yet each member state sets its own fiscal policy (hello, Greece!) This prevents the ECB from effectively monetizing the debt. This defies the entire economic rational of central banking and fiat money. The situation is not altogether dissimilar to the doomed Bretton Woods System and we all know how that ended*.

Because the U.K. (And, also wisely, Sweden and Denmark) have opted out of the Eurozone (despite being eligible) they are insulated from the worst of the effects that could arise in the event of the demise of the E.U. itself and/or the Euro. The U.K. could mobilize rapidly to contain the worst effects.

However, should the U.K. exit the E.U. it would still feel most of these effects anyway, as Europe—vaguely or specifically—is still to be a huge economic reality for the country regardless of what the vote decides. Therefore, it is best for the U.K. to stay in the union because there are certain advantages that legitimately come from membership. The U.K. benefits enormously from membership in the common market, etc.

Moreover, should Britain leave it could provoke the near-term crackup of the union. Britain leaving a union which survives will be disadvantageous to both. But Britain leaving a Union that then explodes a year-down-the-line would be “mutually assured destruction.” Make no mistake, if the decision is ‘exit,’ and margin of victory is not as narrow as a hair, contagion will erupt. Ugly, illiberal nationalism and racism are on the ascendancy there as here. And, for once, Europe may be further down that road to perdition than we are.

* “The Nixon Shock”

Islamic State

Americans are not really thinking. They suppose we can just bomb IS into oblivion, maybe send in a few commandos. In reality it would be extraordinarily bloody and prolonged urban combat.

There would be lots of youtube clips of U.S. sons and daughters burning alive in cages. And it would all be for nothing. Four years later I.S. would have been replaced by something else in the same way IS replaced Al Qaeida, after we destroyed it and stepped into the power vacuum after we toppled the Hussein dictatorship.

The bombs and soldiers can’t obliterate the underlying social and economic reasons that movements like IS have purchase. People join the Islamic State militancy or tolerate its presence in their communities because these countries we see on maps hardly exist.

Their borders are fictitious colonial remnants. There are little in the way of state institutions, law has no force, bribery and corruption are endemic, the economy is choked, property is worthless, red-tape is everywhere, justice is wanting, the people have no voice, education is unattainable, truth is weak. They despair of their lives.

This is what must be banished. You don’t have to bomb IS, you have to deprive it of a political leg to stand on. You need political and economic development, secular state-building, legal reforms, a market economy which is fair and well policed. You need a dream of prosperity and a reality of brightened prospects. You need aspiration. You need a middle class.

Unfortunately, Congress has no idea how to do any of that.

Scottish referendum

Quite apart from the nuts-and-bolts macroeconomic reasons, the problem with the Scottish referendum is that nations are always infinitely sub-divisible. The Atom of the nation is the Individual but aside from that hard limit there’s no “rational optimal subdivision.” Where do you stop? Maybe extricate London—it could join Hong Kong and Singapore as a great city state—why shouldn’t one split off Cornwall, North Ireland, Wales? Why not have 64.1 million nations of one citizen each? As we observe in our own Congress, focusing on what divides and differentiates a nation does not build steel beams of strength but is the road to endless dysfunction.

Israel

I’m tired of everyone acting like it’s clever to ask “Does Israel have the right to exist?” It’s such a nonsequitur. It reminds me of that moronic yet strangely persistent pop-philosophy 101 question “Does the chair exist?”

It a non-productive question. We never ask, for instance, “Does Gabon have the right to exist?”

Strictly, no state has a real “right” to exist or continue existing in the way a human has the moral right to remain alive. A state is established when certain geopolitical conditions are met and is disestablished if those conditions cease to be.

But in the real world, even if you think the circumstances of the establishment of the modern Israeli state are not just, the fact of the matter is that a stable, relatively free and democratic state that has existed for 66 years and has 8 million residents who actively participate in its polity cannot justly be disestablished by external force!

The “statute of limitations” has long since passed.