Hypothetical Nixon

Handle still finds himself with very limited time and net access as of late.  But he came across this story from the newspaper which brought you “Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?”: NSA monitored calls of 35 world leaders.

People, it’s all in the game.  It’s called foreign intelligence.  Every nation state does this to every other nation state all the time and to the maximum affordable extent of their capabilities.  Anyone who thought it ungentlemanly, unsporting, or unfair-play to listen in on his counterparties got permanently out-competed a hundred years ago.

Outrage and surprise at unauthorized disclosures of such surveillance are always feigned.  ‘I demand the presence of country A’s ambassador at once!’ says the foreign minister for country B, who closes the lid of his secure netbook full of of the latest intercepted communications of country A’s leader just before the meeting.  I expect more headlines, “The Pentagon is … gasp … creating plans to attack country C!”  Yeah, and?  Business as usual.

And since the game of thrones is merely one manifestation of the realm of adversarial struggles, one would expect strong incentives for this kind of activity to occur in any other competitive market: business, law, love, and of course, democratic politics.

If dirt on the other guy is effective, and its use doesn’t disqualify the user from office, then politicians are going to do whatever they can get away with to dig up dirt.  Sometimes your sympathizer fan boys will do it for you on their own accord just because they love you so much.  Is Curtis Morrison in jail yet after all those months of FBI investigation that are required after a guy confesses to a federal crime in public?

No?  Huh.  Nydwracu says,

Scott Alexander’s anti-reactionary FAQ provides the strongest argument against reaction I’ve seen so far: that no conspiracy, distributed or otherwise, exists.

Did anyone have to conspire to accomplish this tapping, or to accomplish this de facto pardon?  I doubt there’s even been a single clear communication of direction, intent, or quid pro quo amongst any of the players.  That’s the point.  There doesn’t have to be.

Anyone who’s worked in a bureaucracy for any length of time will understand how it goes, coordinating towards a licit objective without explicit command.  How do you think the IRS/Tea Party thing happened?  By explicit orders?

Part of is is favoring those that ‘get it’ and act accordingly.  They learn what they’re supposed to do not by asking (very unsavvy), but by noticing patterns of what is and is not favored through careful and thoughtful observation.   You learn they ‘get it’ by watching them consistenty behave as if they do, and gently (but with ambiguity and plausible deniability) nudging them in the right direction with tiny bits of praise and correction.

But the direction of the legally or politically undirectable is best illustrated by this piece on race and college admissions:

Why did I hear so many times from the assistant director? I think I got lost in the unspoken directives. Some things can’t be spelled out, but they have to be known. Application readers must simply pick it up by osmosis, so that the process of detecting objective factors of disadvantage becomes tricky.

Again, there’s no conspiracy at all in spontaneous cooperative, even ‘altruistic’ or ‘noble’ actions when everybody in a group trusts everybody else in the group to want the same things, have the same interests and intentions, and be on the same side, more or less.  It helps a great deal if there’s a natural selection mechanism to promote your friends and weed out those who don’t ‘get it’ and who are playing off-side.

A cult or a religion or a tribe is not a ‘conspiracy’ in the classic sense. Is a bee hive or ant hill a ‘conspiracy’?  Religions make people more like bees.  Or if a tribe is a conspiracy, if a business or political party or even a government are all conspiracies, if the US Intelligence Community is a conspiracy against foreign informational security, and the US Military a conspiracy against their physical security, then The Cathedral is most definitely a conspiracy.

Now, it’s true, that sometimes, the kids gets a little cocky and stop remembering to keep it on the down-low and occasionally get caught actively synchronizing the talking points and strategizing the news cycle for maximum progressive political benefit – like what happened with JournoList 1.0.  Well, I mean, what happened three years after Kaus blew it up in 2007, well after Obama’s election.  Well, better late than never.  I’m sure the proprietors got what was coming to them!

A tribe doesn’t need a chief barking orders to defend its turf and people against another tribe – it happens automatically and without a central coordinating committee.  A cult member with the stick uses it to spear the enemy.  A cult member with a bow shoots an arrow.  The job is not the identity or the community or the subculture or the belief.  Progressivism is the belief and the community.  The job is just the tool at hand. A progressive with a column writes propaganda and hit pieces.  A progressive with a microphone bugs the opposition.

But it got me thinking.  Let’s say there was a conspiracy.  Let’s say there was a document showing Obama’s clear direction to bug McConnell, criminal intent, solicitation, the whole thing.  And then some public-spirited counter-Snowden made that document public so even the FBI couldn’t indefinitely stall an investigation, and the Republicans cry “Impeachment!” and the world waits for the media circus and for Obama to resign and be pardoned by President Biden.

That’s the hypothetical.  We are that moment of waiting.  The internet is full of mirrored links to the document showing “The President ordered some clown to bug McConnell.” and we are waiting … what will we get?

Will we get Watergate?  Something less?  Or something much, much less?  Perhaps even an ardent defense of the unfortunate necessity of the President having to do such ugly things in order to save the country from the racist Neanderthals who are mad because he’s black and just was to ‘let it burn’.  Which our noble leader must stop by any means necessary.  He could do no other! It was his sacred duty as defender of the republic!

Do I exaggerate?  Again, what do you expect?  From Salon or Mother Jones?  From the Post or the Times? From Slate and Yglesias?  Put it in the comments.  Is it parity?  For me; it’s not parity.

And if, like me, you think it won’t be like it was with Nixon, then you must have a reason – a model of how your world works.  The Cathedral is not a name for a ‘conspiracy’, it is just a name for that accurate paradigm of how humans work; just an abbreviation for that tragic understanding.

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14 Responses to Hypothetical Nixon

  1. Jefferson says:

    One of the key takeaways I’ve gotten from Neoreactionary thought is that the specific situations and individuals don’t make much difference. If widespread voter fraud took place in the 2012 election (if?), and was exposed, and was investigated, and was condemned loudly and publicly by a uniformity of progressives, the next progressive leader would step up and nothing would change. If a sliver of the American voting public decided that the Democrats were unelectable, and it swung the next 10 elections for Republicans, it might barely delay the progressive march by a few years. I don’t think that things have fallen apart quite to the extent that POTUS ordering the destruction of his enemies in an extra-legal fashion would get swept under the rug, but I know that it doesn’t really matter.

  2. peppermint says:

    Elections don’t have consequences when politicians are there to order the implementation of mainstream, common-sense public policy solutions.

    To problems identified and communicated by public policy researchers, at universities and think tanks, and journalists, in the mainstream media. Implemented by the extended the hundreds of thousands of government employees and the NGOs.

    We are the Antiversity. We’re already having an impact on the ideas of thoughtful people (the masses are braying asses and have never mattered except as meatpuppets). We can provide something that the Polygon can’t. The Polygon has cant, we have the honest speech that Republicans talk about but don’t actually employ.

    The mainstream media is already dying; the universities will die soon.

    Anyway, even when I was a progressive, I believed that the history of the 20th century is a history of broadcast media and the kind of politics it incentivizes, since the popularity of various ideas is related to who has military control over the broadcast stations. Yes, even as a progressive. Progressives were horrified at the tribal violence of the Hutus against the Tutsis that started with racist radio broadcasts*, and refuse to allow racists to broadcast because the masses are asses and would get confused.

    Naturally, as a progressive, I believed that the media was intrinsically corrupted by filthy lucre.

    Moldbug seems to have argued that broadcast media doesn’t matter as much, since the people don’t matter, and instead we should care about the ruling ideas, which have been drifting leftwards since before Carlyle, and we have been protected by technological advances from noticing how retarded the leftwards drift is.

    * naturally, it was actually strike-down-the-oppressors violence from the envious Hutus against the rich Tutsis

  3. Dan says:

    “People, it’s all in the game. It’s called foreign intelligence. Every nation state does this to every other nation state all the time and to the maximum affordable extent of their capabilities. Anyone who thought it ungentlemanly, unsporting, or unfair-play to listen in on his counterparties got permanently out-competed a hundred years ago.”

    There is no hundred-years-ago equivalent to what is happening now.

    You could nurture a spy lovingly over years and if he is lucky enough to get near to the leader, he might be able to relay 5% of the leader’s secrets. The CIA might have been lucky to bug a room or other in a key place and doubly lucky if something useful was said by someone standing next to the bug. What is going on now has no past analog.

    I would add that you are liable to get lousy leadership this way. The key is not having more noise to distract you but to quietly learn how things actually work, Thomas Carlyle-style, and then governing accordingly. Buffett invests from Omaha precisely to avoid the noise of Wall Street.

    I expect that the administration pushed through the Affordable Care Act and defeated its challenges in part due to an information advantage and perhaps the 2012 election was won this way as well. But the adverse selection problem which makes the ACA an actuarial failure is obvious from 10 minutes of contemplation. Apparently 10 minutes of contemplation did not occur.

  4. Toddy Cat says:

    “Did anyone have to conspire to accomplish this tapping, or to accomplish this de facto pardon? I doubt there’s even been a single clear communication of direction, intent, or quid pro quo amongst any of the players. That’s the point. There doesn’t have to be.”

    This. If there’s one thing frustrating about being on the Right, it’s the perennial conservative belief that the Left is some kind of conspiracy, complete with a secret handshake and decoder rings. McCarthy thought this, and Nixon, and almost every conservative since, and it’s really sad to see that a sharp guy like Nydwracu thinks that Alexander’s lame attempt at “proving” there is no formal conspiracy in any way invalidates anything about reaction. Of course there is no such conspiracy – there doesn’t have to be. All the left needs to do is hire like-minded people, and no conspiracy is necessary. Personnel is policy in any organization; hire progressives into the proper positions, and the “conspiracy” takes care of itself. After sixty-five years of this nonsense, one wouldn’t think that anyone on the right would need to be told this.

    • Handle says:

      People committed to a belief system do two things. First, wherever they end up, they notice and spontaneously take whatever opportunities to help the cause which may arise. They ‘pick up the sticks as they find them’. And second, they tend to be drawn towards professions and institutions that are understood to be the places where cause-helpers thrive and the cause-helping opportunity environment is ‘rich’.

      People on the right do the same thing – politically motivated folks want to ‘change the world’ and ‘have impact’ in their own way. They notice that public-opinion-formation is the name of the game, and they see which institutions are most effective, historically, in moving the public needle in the desired direction. So they also try to play the media game, the law, journalism, bureaucracy, economics, think-tank, foundation, institute, opinion magazine, etc. games. It’s just that outside tiny ghettoizes enclaves here are there they are so horribly outnumbered in the reigning institutions that they can never hope to break through and ‘take the reigns’ of the machine. Because of social transmission mechanisms, and an institution’s tendency to perpetuate a leftist character once established (Conquest’s law), the right can never win at the game.

      It should wake up, realize that, and stop playing it.

    • nydwracu says:

      The meaning of what I said changes substantially once the context is given: Scott Alexander’s anti-reactionary FAQ provides the strongest argument against reaction I’ve seen so far: that no conspiracy, distributed or otherwise, exists, and therefore that most progressive initiatives were inevitable given technological advancement. To counter this, we need a much better picture of the distributed conspiracies.

      And ‘distributed conspiracy’ means exactly what you and Handle are describing.

      • Handle says:

        Ah, I see what you mean now. But I have strong intuitions against using the term ‘distributed conspiracy’ or any modifier of ‘conspiracy’ to describe the phenomenon. ‘Distributed’ is ok, because of the peer-to-peer network of isolated, independent and autonomous individuals participating voluntarily and without much rigidity to their participation or affiliation. Plenty of exit and reentry, some voice.

        Conspiracy, however, means the process of direct communication, even negotiation, whereby individuals agree to strategically cooperate towards achieving a defined, wrongful objective. We’re talking about a situation where there is no need for such direct communication or agreement.

        It’s not just that conspiracy is an intellectual land-mine word – though it is and it is one of those antibody-triggers that closes the brains you’re trying to open. Visions arise of nerdy conspiracy theorist kooks and of mocking people who believe in smoke-filled rooms of skull-and-bones Ivy League professors and journalists and so on.

        So, yes, I agree we should present a clear picture of how spontaneous alignment and cooperation occurs amongst like-minded individuals and without the need for central coordination, deconfliction, direction, negotiation, planning, agreement, or direct communication.

        The difference is like that between natural selection and intelligent design. Anything involving the word ‘conspiracy’ smack of ‘intelligent design’ when we are actually talking a phenomenon which lives by natural selection.

        I word prefer a more biological term, perhaps something derived from sociobiology that is descriptive of the cooperative behavior patterns of social and colony animals.

        It is essential to the point that there is no ‘ghost in the machine’, no master-mind at the wheel or omnipotence who sets the master plan and wields the grand design. It comes about and perpetuates its existence in the same ghostless way as ecology. The appearance of order is an emergent phenomenon and, really, an illusion – a temporary equilibrium of dynamic opposing forces, the chaos of wild swings clearly visible on longer time scales.

        So, please, the first thing is the rectification of names. Conspiracy is Creationism. I’m thinking maybe something of foreign origin will be more helpful.

        • Vladimir says:

          Two concepts, namely signaling and Schelling points, are more than sufficient to answer how something like this can happen in principle. However, the really interesting intellectual task would be to formulate a specific and comprehensive theory of the progressive ideological hegemony based on these concepts. This is in fact the main question that we should be trying to work out in these forums.

          • Handle says:

            Something you can tackle at VladimiReaction Blog perhaps.

            I agree that it’s not a difficult phenomenon to explain in terms of human social psychology, but I would ask you to expand on why you think this is the ‘main question’. Why is it so valuable / what is one to do with it? Is it that you think such a thorough analysis will reveal weak points or chinks in the armor that are most susceptible to attack or vulnerable to subversion?

            I would add that a selection mechanism for true believers in an important component, and indeed, is part of Sailer’s narrative of what happened with Countrywide / Washington-Mutual, the Housing Bubble, financial crisis, and Great Recession.

  5. Dan says:

    As for the overall question, I do believe that we have it answered for us.


    Some scandals are not huge, but others honestly are. And there are instances of the Obama administration spying illegally, just as what brought Nixon down. The Obama administration interfered with an election (just the problem with Nixon) through the IRS.

    Democracy is over, so if the reaction want a king, they have one. Not someone they would choose, but that is how it is with kings.

    • Handle says:

      No. Just because one is able to exercise power ‘above the law’ does not make one a King. Why do politicians engage in such scandalous abuses of power? To maintain power. Why does it work? Because staying in power is not a function of effectiveness in a Democracy.

      When reactionaries say they would prefer a chief executive, or a king, or a commander, they are simply saying they would like a governance structure where the framework of incentives is such that the chief’s security in his position and his rewards of office are proportional to achievement.

      There are no popularity contests, so the CEO isn’t incentivized to spend his time and abuse his authority to cheat or game the results of popularity contests.

      When Obama himself needs to grant a particular, extremely-competent and talented individual huge amounts of discretion and authority over an entire subject-area of the federal apparatus, accountable for his performance, but subject to no ‘popularity’ test, he calls that Senior Executive a ‘Czar’ (or occasionally an undersecretary).

      A Czar is experienced, smart, able and motivated to get things done right, and doesn’t care whether 50 million idiots can be brainwashed by a 30 second television commercial to think they object when in truth they’ll never know how to come to an informed opinion on the matter.

      Why does Obama want and need Czars like that? The same reason reactionaries want Czars like that. Only, we don’t see why Obama’s position should be exempt.

      Again – think it through – what would Obama do if he didn’t care about maintaining 51% voter approval, and instead was worried about competition from rival, competent managers competing for his job?

      • asdf says:

        “they are simply saying they would like a governance structure where the framework of incentives is such that the chief’s security in his position and his rewards of office are proportional to achievement.”

        If such a governance structure actually existed why do you think its never come about?

        • Handle says:

          It has. It’s called the CEO or Military Commander. We have seen it historically on multiple occasions in the regional / territorial governor scheme of imperial or military regimes. Singapore is arguably run on this model.

          When results matter and governance-scheme planners have wide authority in a competitive environment, they work hard to create systems where the interests of the organization and decision-makers are aligned. If they are worse at doing this than the competition then they die.

          Nothing works perfectly in any human arrangement of course. But there’s a lot of room for improvement. Progressivism and brain-dead nostalgia – even worship – for a constitutionalism that no longer exists is what keeps up from enjoying those improvements.

  6. Scharlach says:

    This is an interesting paragraph I just found about the guy who bugged McConnell:

    Before working as an activist for Progress Kentucky with the sole mission of bringing down McConnell, the 44-year-old Morrison in 2010 left his career as a real-estate agent and returned to college, attending the University of Louisville to study communications. Morrison started his own blog and then became a paid freelancer for Insider Louisville, a local news website, in 2011. He also wrote six op-eds for the Louisville Courier-Journal, he said.

    via: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/06/doj-mitch-mcconnell-bugging-93143_Page2.html#ixzz2jJ0Uox7o

    An interesting case study related to the question Vladimir is interested in (progressive ideological hegemony). Why does a mid-life adult who works in one of the most right-wing professions all of a sudden give it up and go back to school for . . . . communications! Blogging and freelancing, he couldn’t be making more than 30k/yr.

    My guess is that he didn’t give up on real estate. Real estate gave up on him. Maybe that was just the latest in a string of jobs he had tried and failed at. And he was going back to school while living on some dole money. A perfect candidate for progressive activism.

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