What’s In A Name?

When I launched Zeroth Position in January 2016, I wrote an article explaining the name of the site. What I have not done until now is to write an article explaining the pen name I use here. The practice of writing under a pseudonym has a long history, and has been done by various authors for a wide variety of reasons. The particular name or names that one chooses for this purpose frequently have a degree of significance, either to the personality of the author or the nature of one’s literary works. Let us explore these reasons and contemplate them in relation to my own pseudonym as I explain the meaning and significance of it.

Motivations for Pseudonymity

A pen name is a name other than one’s legal name that an author adopts for use in the by-line of their publications. One reason for doing this is to protect an author from retribution. In many societies, authors of dissident materials could face severe punishments that could deprive not only oneself, but one’s family of life, liberty, and property. For example, this is the motivation for a critic of Islam using the pen name Ibn Warraq. Although states in the modern West usually refrain from such measures, having instead some degree of freedom of speech, the reality is that they have outsourced censorship to the soft power of establishment journalists and the leftist mobs at their command. Whoever wishes to be free from harassment by these types and remain employable while presenting a worldview at odds with the progressive consensus is therefore strongly incentivized to use a pseudonym. In other cases, an author may need a pen name because the terms of one’s other employment disallow publishing under one’s real name. Irish author Brian O’Nolan‘s use of the pen names Flann O’Brien and Myles na gCopaleen is explained by laws forbidding Irish civil servants from publicly expressing political views.[1]

Those who are safe from harm may wish to use a pen name in an effort to distinguish themselves or gain more readership. If one’s real name is shared with someone who is already famous, then a pen name may be necessary to avoid confusion. This was necessary for a young Winston Churchill, as the British statesman was once overshadowed by an American novelist of the same name; the former therefore wrote as Winston S. Churchill.[2] Some authors write in several genres and wish to have a separate name for each; the mathematician Charles Dodgson wrote under his own name for non-fiction and as Lewis Carroll for fiction.[3] Highly prolific authors may use multiple names to get more of their content into a given medium, as novelist Stephen King did with the pen name Richard Bachman.[4] Those wishing to experiment with a different writing style or genre may do so under a different name out of concern that failure may impact sales of their other works, as science fiction author Harry Turtledove did with some historical novels under the name H. N. Turteltaub. In cultures that disadvantage female authors, or in genres usually written by men, women may either choose a masculine pen name or use their initials instead of their full name. Famous examples of the former from the 19th century include Mary Ann Evans (as George Eliot)[5] and the Brontë sisters (as Acton, Currer, and Ellis Bell). J. K. Rowling is a more recent example of the latter.

Some pen names are used collectively by multiple authors. One use of this is to suggest continuity of authorship over long time periods, much as a corporation suggests continuity of ownership beyond the span of an individual’s involvement in a business. This is also known as a house name. An example is The Saint series; the first books were written by Leslie Charteris, but later books were written by ghost writers under the same name. Collaborative authors may also share a pen name, as Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay did when they wrote the Federalist Papers under the pseudonym Publius.[6] One’s ideology may disallow taking credit for one’s work as an individual, so pseudonyms for public use exist for this reason, such as Luther Blissett.[7] The historical practice of pseudepigraphy involved the false attribution of a work, usually to put one’s own ideas into broader circulation that could be achieved under one’s real name by using the name of an established intellectual.[8] Of course, there may be multiple motivations for a pen name, as is the case with the pen name N. B. Pettibone once used by Brittany and Nicole Pettibone. It is both a collaborative name and an initial name by female authors in a male-dominated genre.

Other concerns are purely aesthetic or personal. An author may feel that one’s name does not fit with the genre of one’s writing. Whereas Julie Woodcock’s real name has certain implications in the romance genre, she writes as Angela Knight instead. As a person’s knowledge and experiences alter one’s beliefs over time, one can come to reject some of one’s previous works so strongly as to feel a need to use a different name. The tradition of using a pen name after one’s real name, known as takhallus, has long been practiced by poets and other writers in Persian, Urdu, and some other Indian languages.[9] Japanese poets and artists also use art-names, which they may change several times during their careers. This usually marks significant changes in the artist’s life.[10]

Nullus Maximus

Now that the reasons for an author to choose a pseudonym are clear, let us examine the name I have chosen. Both words come from Latin. As an adjective, “Nullus” is the masculine word for “no, none, not any”. As a noun, it is the masculine second declension of “no one, nobody”. It is also the closest word for the number zero, a foreign concept to the Romans which did not appear explicitly in Latin until medieval times.[11] “Maximus” is the masculine word for “greatest/biggest/largest”, “highest, utmost”, “leading, chief”, “longest”, or “oldest”. Several interpretations of the combination “Nullus Maximus” are meaningful to me, including “no maximum”, “greatest nobody”, “not any chief”, “no leading”, and “largest zero”. The masculine words give away my biological sex and gender identity, but I believe my work already makes this obvious.

“No Maximum” could also be thought of as “No Limit”, and this refers to my willingness to tackle any subject matter that interests me as well as my determination to take an argument to its logical conclusion. Though there are certain viewpoints that I refuse to allow to be advocated here at Zeroth Position, no topic is off-limits for thoughtful exploration. Whether it is the ethics of political assassinations, private ownership of nuclear weapons, the role of conquest and genocide in libertarian theory, slaughtering the most sacred ideological cows of the political establishment, or admonishing those who are nominally on our side (including ourselves), there is no intellectual ground that I and my guest authors dare not traverse.

“Greatest Nobody” is an acknowledgment of my personal status, a rejection of credentialism, and an aspiration to be more than I am. As of this writing, I hold a bachelor’s degree in physics with some graduate study in the subject, but no advanced degree. I wield no power to speak of in the physical world, aside from what following and influence I have earned here. On paper, there is no reason for someone to regard me as an authority on most of the subjects addressed in my political and philosophical writings. But to dismiss my work on this account would be a courtier’s reply fallacy; the truth value of an argument is independent of the expertise (or lack thereof) of any person advocating it. My work should stand or fall on its own merits and demerits, not on my merits or demerits as a person. While I may or may not be the “greatest nobody,” I aspire to be the best that I can be.

“Not Any Chief” is one possible interpretation of my ideal political order, though a great multitude of chiefs, each of whom have far less control than modern nation-states, is a more accurate description. This was initially called anarcho-capitalism, but anarcho-monarchism and anarcho-feudalism are more accurate terms. The former is suggestive of politically autistic hyper-individualism that is incompatible with the fact that humans are social creatures. This interpretation also admits that I am “not any chief”; I do not hold sovereign power and am unlikely to ever do so.

“No Leading” is a statement of purpose. I have always had natural leadership qualities, and many people in my life through the years have granted me perhaps more decision-taking power than I am due, but it is not my goal to convince others to follow me. (That said, subscriptions and donations are much appreciated.) I believe it to be more important to provide logical and strategic blueprints that others may adapt to their own purposes, for achieving a libertarian social order (or any other great accomplishment) will require many independent, decentralized efforts.

Finally, “Largest Zero” is a reference to my role here at Zeroth Position. As I am the site founder, payroll master, head of IT, chief editor, and the most prolific author, my role here is far larger than anyone else’s. Should this site grow to become far more popular and profitable than it currently is, I will seek to offload some of these responsibilities so that I may focus entirely on thinking and writing, but this interpretation fits for now.

Personal Motivations

I have explained my choice of pen name, but not why I chose to use one, so let us review the motivations from the first section. Agents of the state have only ever been inconvenient to me, but the dissident materials I and my fellows here have authored do not rise to a level that would currently be punishable by law in the United States as of yet. Of course, this may change someday, but no one who lacks sovereign power is truly safe from this.

However, as previously noted, the forces of inquisition are now mostly private and decentralized, with ever-changing standards for what makes them target someone. This is of little concern to me, as traditional employment has long remained elusive for me regardless of whether or what I write, and my audience is not yet large enough to attract much public ire from the Cathedral or its minions. I have very little at present that they could take from me, so this is also not my motivation for having a pseudonym. Furthermore, my legal name is something of an open secret in libertarian circles, in that anyone who needs to know (e.g. for the purpose of inviting me to a speaking engagement) has little difficulty in learning it. An enemy could presumably do so as well.

Several other people share my legal name, and at least one has contributed to scientific research. But no one with my name writes in a similar vein to my own work. Though I had several profiles at the content mill I wrote for prior to launching Zeroth Position, and I chose my pen name partly based on the site name, I did not choose the name to experiment with a different writing style; this simply happened over time as I changed my focus and learned more information. I currently write only for this site (though that may change in the near future) and am not highly prolific, so I do not use multiple pen names. Neither does anyone else write under my pen name.

My motivations for going pseudonymic are purely aesthetic and personal. The aesthetics were described in the previous section. The personal (beyond the personal nature of the aesthetic) is primarily that I wanted a new name to fit with my new website, a venture which marked a change in my life. “Nullus Maximus” thus functions somewhat like an Asian art-name. Another factor is that I noticed the neoreactionary scene a few months after starting Zeroth Position, and almost everyone there has a pen name. While the libertarian reactionary views I espouse are significantly different from neoreaction, there is also significant overlap, with a large number of shared concepts and diagnoses of the modern world. At the time, I thought that I might better fit into their circles if I behaved likewise. In hindsight, their response to me under my real name probably would have been nearly identical.

For now, I intend to keep the pen name and maintain course more generally, but with one major change. In early 2018, I began working on a book, but now I have started devoting more effort to actually doing everything necessary to complete a masterpiece of original thought. This will necessarily mean less articles here until the book is finished. Once the book is ready, I will seriously consider dropping the mask and going for a writing career under my legal name, though the subject matter of the book would fit my pen name very well. I may also write articles for other sites under my legal name or initial name in the near future.

To all who wondered about the meaning of my pen name, both denotatively and personally, now you know.

References:

  1. Curran, Steven (2001). “’Could Paddy Leave off from Copying Just for Five Minutes’: Brian O’Nolan and Eire’s Beveridge Plan”. Irish University Review. 31 (2): 353–375.
  2. Dockter, Warren (Oct. 2011). “The Tale of Two Winstons”. The Historian. 11: 10–12.
  3. Thomas, Donald (1996). Lewis Carroll / A Biography. Barnes and Noble, Inc. p. 129.
  4. “StephenKing.com – Frequently Asked Questions”.
  5. Cross, J. W. (ed.), (1885). George Eliot’s life as related in her letters and journals, 3 vols. London: William Blackwood and Sons. Vol. 1, p. 431.
  6. Furtwangler, Albert (1984). The Authority of Publius: A Reading of the Federalist Papers. Cornell Univ Press. p. 51.
  7. Deseriis, Marco (2010). “’Lots of Money Because I am Many:’ The Luther Blissett Project and the Multiple-Use Name Strategy”. In Cultural Activism: Practices, Dilemmas and Possibilities, edited by Begum O. Firat and Aylin Kuryel. Rodopi, Amsterdam. p. 65–94.
  8. Bauckham, Richard (Sept. 1988). “Pseudo-Apostolic Letters”. Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 107, No. 3, p. 469–94.
  9. A Brief History of Persian Literature, by the Iran Chamber Society.
  10. Weston, Mark (1999). Giants of Japan: The Lives of Japan’s Most Influential Men and Women. New York: Kodansha International. p. 116.
  11. Durant, Will (1950). The Story of Civilization, Vol. 4, The Age of Faith: Constantine to Dante – A.D. 325–1300. Simon & Schuster. p. 241.

Twelve Observations on the Covington Incident

On Jan. 18, 2019, students from the all-male Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky participated in the March for Life in Washington, D.C. That evening, a video emerged of students in front of the Lincoln Memorial after the march. They were shown doing chants as they do at their sporting events, wearing Trump hats and appearing to be in a standoff with Nathan Phillips, 64, a Native American who was standing very close to one of them (later revealed to be high school junior Nick Sandmann, 16) and beating a drum while the student stood and smiled. This video produced intense backlash from Cathedral brahmins and establishment cuckservatives alike as it was spread throughout social media on the morning of Jan. 19.

More videos were later posted online that gave more context to the situation. These showed an earlier encounter between the students and the Black Hebrew Israelites, a racist hate group who were chanting slurs and obscenities at the boys before Phillips got involved. Several of the students were doxxed and threatened in various ways. Some of those who spoke out against the boys retracted their statements and apologized, while others have continued attacking them. Twelve observations on these events follow.

1. People see what they want to see. Monica Hesse at the Washington Post described the story as “a Rorschach test,” writing, “As much as we might try to see what happened from Sandmann’s perspective, or from Phillips’s, the perspective we’re ultimately seeing it from is our own.” Julie Irwin Zimmerman at The Atlantic echoed this sentiment, writing, “tell me how you first reacted, and I can probably tell where you live, who you voted for in 2016, and your general take on a list of other issues.” Those who wanted to see a white male racist and those who wanted to see a white male victim each projected their desires onto Sandmann. This is why it is important to reserve judgment until enough facts are available to make a sound judgment, which in some cases will never happen.

2. Despite all of the establishment haranguing, Sandmann’s smile and stance are perfectly understandable. A teenage boy was confronted by a 64-year-old man who started beating a drum next to his face. Sandmann’s expression conveys the look of a young person who is observing an older person act foolishly but does not wish to confront the elder more substantively, both out of respect and out of a desire to avoid unnecessary escalation. The establishment media, however, treated his expression in an Orwellian manner:

“It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself – anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime, it was called.” —George Orwell, 1984

3. The Covington students deserve praise for their restraint. The boys stood through more than an hour of insults from the Black Hebrew Israelites and the provocation of Phillips. Though they would have been demonized much further if they had responded with more than standing their ground and performing the occasional tomahawk chop along with the drumbeat, it would be difficult for most people, including their critics, to endure so much and remain so calm.

4. Social justice ideology predictably backfires. The behavior of the Black Hebrew Israelites toward both the Native American group and the Covington students is an example of a larger problem. Social justice ideology teaches that all black people are part of an oppressed victim group that lacks institutional power, and defines racism as prejudice plus power. In effect, this makes it impossible for blacks to be racist, and when a group of people are given carte blanche, there will always be some who take advantage of the circumstance. Whether it is the Black Hebrew Israelites insulting Native Americans and whites or Louis Farrakhan calling Jews termites, the underlying ideology of social justice is to blame for holding them blameless.

5. Phillips thoroughly mischaracterized both the events and himself. He said that the Covington kids “were in the process of attacking these four black individuals” and “looked like they were going to lynch them.” He also claimed that they chanted, “Build that wall.” No evidence for the chant has been found, and the larger video shows that the Black Hebrew Israelites were the initial instigators.

Phillips’ account of himself is not much more accurate. He says he is a Vietnam veteran who served in combat, but records show that he was not deployed overseas and had several breaches of conduct at the time. He told CNN that it is “time for lies to be not accepted anymore,” and his testimony is a good starting place.

6. Those who planned the trip for the students did them a disservice. The Covington students are likely being taught the leftist, civics class, politically autistic version of how political change occurs, which only works for leftist goals that have elite support. A proper understanding of political change recognizes that public demonstrations are counterproductive for rightist purposes, and would instead have the boys focus on becoming strong members of their communities who will someday be able to assist in a restoration.

7. Rightists consistently lose ground partly due to perfidious leaders. When leftist activists get into trouble, their elites back them up even when they are obviously guilty. But when rightist activists get falsely accused, they also get betrayed by their own elites, who cannot kowtow to the opposition quickly enough. In a joint statement issued on Jan. 19, Covington Catholic High School and the Diocese of Covington apologized to Phillips and said they were investigating. “We will take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion,” the statement said. Nicholas Frankovich of National Review Online penned a blistering hit piece on the Covington boys, saying,

“They mock a serious, frail-looking older man and gloat in their momentary role as Roman soldiers to his Christ. ‘Bullying’ is a worn-out word and doesn’t convey the full extent of the evil on display here. As for the putatively Catholic students from Covington, they might as well have just spit on the cross and got it over with.”.

Both have since been taken offline. The Archdiocese of Baltimore also rushed to judgment and had to apologize once the broader context was revealed. Many other cuckservatives failed the Covington test as well. But apologies are not good enough. Even if one receives the sacrament of penance, there is still an earthly penalty for one’s sins, and theirs should be to lose their standing in whatever movements or communities they purport to lead and speak for.

8. Never apologize to the left. In a Jan. 23. interview on NBC’s “Today” show, Savannah Guthrie tried to get Sandmann to apologize and admit fault on his part. Though Sandmann had the uncertain demeanor of a teenager about him, as one might expect, he defended his actions well. It is important to avoid caving when dealing with a leftist mob, as apologizing only emboldens them to escalate their attacks. As Vox Day explains,

“Normal people seek apologies because they want to know that you feel bad about what you have done and that you will at least attempt to avoid doing it again in the future. When [social justice warriors] push you for an apology after pointing-and-shrieking at you, what they are seeking is a confession to bolster their indictment. They are like the police down at the station with a suspect in the interrogation room, badgering him to confess to the crime. And like all too many police these days, the SJWs don’t really care if you did it or not, they’re just looking for a confession that they can take to the prosecutor.

Be aware that once they have launched an attack on you, they will press you hard for an apology and repeatedly imply that if you will just apologize, all will be forgiven. Do not be fooled! …The SJWs are simply looking for a public confession that will confirm their accusations, give them PR cover, and provide them with the ammunition required to discredit and disemploy you. Apologizing will accomplish nothing more than hand them the very weapons they require to destroy you.”

9. Whether by legal or extralegal means, doxxing must become a punishable offense. Though it is unlikely that Sandmann and his classmates will face much lasting damage from the efforts of doxxers against them, doxxing has become a serious threat to the life, liberty, and prosperity of anyone who deviates from Cathedral orthodoxy. Unfortunately, legal repercussions for doxxing are currently lacking in most jurisdictions, so protecting innocent people from the antics of misguided and/or unscrupulous activists and journalists requires direct action as of this writing. This may take a variety of forms, from counter-doxxing to extralegal violence, but the goal should be to criminalize the release of another person’s information without their consent.

10. Most of those who call for violence do not understand violence. Following the short, out-of-context video, many leftist celebrities and pundits expressed a desire to punch the Covington kids, including SNL‘s Sarah Beattie, CNN contributor Reza Aslan, and The Daily Show‘s Trevor Noah. Disney producer Jack Morrisey went further, calling for Sandmann to receive a Fargo-style woodchipping. Threats against Covington Catholic resulted in the school being closed on Jan. 22 and opening under heavier guard on Jan. 23. It is unlikely that any of these people have any real knowledge of how violence works, either at the personal level or the broader political level. They risk provoking a response that they cannot possibly handle.

11. Freedom of the press should not mean freedom of the lügenpresse. When freedom of the press first became part of the Anglo-American legal tradition, it generally applied only to people who owned one and was far more limited than today. But the offense of libel has steadily become harder for civil plaintiffs and criminal prosecutors alike to prove in court, while the press now consists of anyone who communicates to the public in a manner other than direct spoken word. We have now reached a point at which it is possible to abuse freedom of the press to destroy innocent people by spreading malicious lies about them without suffering any significant sanction, unless the aggrieved party decides to step outside the law and resolve matters the old-fashioned way.

During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump said, “I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” The Covington incident is an excellent pretext for taking such action.

12. The incident is rooted in the problem of the commons. A national monument, like any other common space in a statist society, is said to belong to everyone. But that which supposedly belongs to everyone really has no clear ownership. That which is unowned and valuable will be sought by various people and groups, some of whom will eventually be at cross purposes. When this happens, a conflict will occur that could have been prevented by clear, strong property rights.

Book Review: Cyber Smart

Cyber Smart is a book about protecting money and information from cyber criminals by cybersecurity expert Bart R. McDonough. The book explains what bad actors are trying to accomplish through their uses of technology, as well as whom they target, where and when they strike, and how they operate so that people may take effective countermeasures. The introduction mentions the various attack vectors to be examined in detail later, then presents the five basic steps to cybersecurity that he repeatedly advocates throughout the book: keep devices updated, use two-factor authentication, use a password manager, use up-to-date antivirus software, and create data backups. This bit becomes a bit tedious as the book goes on, but each of these five points is good advice. He then lists several myths about cybersecurity that will be debunked throughout the book. McDonough finishes the introduction with a brief overview of the two parts of the book.

The first part contains nine chapters which cover the targets, goals, and methods of cybercriminals. This section is really only necessary for beginners in cybersecurity and other uninformed people, but it is good to have all of its information in one place as a go-to reference to refresh one’s memory even if one is well-versed in its subject matter. Chapter 1 begins with a story of wire transfer fraud, then tells the reader how to prevent oneself from being scammed in this manner. After providing some statistics, McDonough explains the differences and relationships between data breaches, hacks, and cyberattacks. The second chapter tells the story of notorious hacker Albert Gonzalez, then delves into hacker demographics, motivations, and methods. McDonough discusses white-hat and black-hat hackers, but does not mention grey-hats. He gives a brief overview of nation-state attackers, but mostly saves this subject for the final chapter of the book, as this is not the primary cyberattacker for most people. Hacktivism is discussed, then the chapter concludes with several stories of hackers who were caught.

In the third and fourth chapters, McDonough explains that the goal of hackers is usually profit and that their methods are different means toward that end, even for black-hats who served prison time and became white-hats. He tells the reader how stolen credentials are used and sold on black markets, then calls attention to medical identity theft, a rising threat in recent years. The various types of malware that afflict computers gets a thorough overview, as does the concept of social engineering, which is the use of deception to obtain personal information. The rest of Chapter 4 details the various types of scams that one may encounter. It is here that one sees the link between cybersecurity and security in the physical world.

Chapter 5 lays out the chain of events that comprise a cyberattack and explains how each step in the chain presents the defender with an opportunity to stop the attack. The sixth chapter begins with a story about finding a random USB stick that turns out to have planted by bad actors to spread malware, then explores other methods of attack, such as phony emails, impersonation in phone calls and texting, fake websites, and compromised Wi-Fi. In the seventh chapter, McDonough returns to the “Brilliance in the Basics” strategy, elaborating on each point. He recommends that some older, more vulnerable applications not be used, but does not consider the possibility of a fake security patch that could infect a device with malware while posing as a legitimate update. Two-factor authentication is rightly praised, but using more factors is barely mentioned in the book. After explaining what a password manager is, McDonough advises the reader to install an antivirus program and keep it updated. Unfortunately, details on their operation are left sparse, and there is no mention of blacklist versus whitelist antivirus methods. The chapter concludes by introducing cloud storage, which is covered in more detail later.

The eighth chapter is very short, and deals with mistakes. McDonough explains how to avoid being the source of a data breach that could be very costly to oneself or one’s employer. To end Part I, Chapter 9 offers advice on how to respond to an attack that has already occurred, going through the steps for dealing with phishing, malware, ransomware, and email compromise. The only questionable advice here is to pay the ransom for ransomware if all else fails instead of just eating the loss, as this encourages further attacks.

Part II contains twelve chapters which discuss specific threats and recommendations for different parts of a person’s life, with a list of steps to follow at the end of each chapter. It is here that one is most likely to learn something new. Chapters 10 and 11 deal with identity theft of yourself and your children, respectively. McDonough discusses how bad actors obtain personal information with which to commit identity theft. One wonders why he does not recommend incinerating identifying documents instead of merely shredding them before disposing of them. He directs readers to a website which allows them to check whether their information has already been compromised. He explains the difference between fraud alerts and security freezes while showing how companies like Lifelock are essentially scams. The rest of Chapter 10 offers advice for protecting one’s medical history, preventing identity theft against deployed military personnel, and helping senior citizens avoid scammers. Chapter 11 explains why bad actors target children for identity theft, which is a problem that lacks sufficient public awareness. Most of the defenses are similar to the measures for adults, with minor variations. The chapter also deals with online gaming predators who target children, general Internet use by children, and smart toys. Oddly, McDonough does not advise against using smart toys at all.

The twelfth chapter is about protecting money. It begins with an example of identity theft and illegitimate purchases, then surveys major types of financial fraud, including wire transfer fraud, home equity fraud, IRS impersonation, credit and gift card fraud, card skimmers, and several other types that target unbanked and underbanked people. Strangely, there is no discussion of how to protect one’s cryptocurrency holdings. Chapter 13 is a brief foray into protecting an email account. One may be surprised at just how insecure and naive the average person is while reading this chapter, from using the same password for personal and business accounts to expecting providers of free services not to sell their data.

Protecting files is the subject of the fourteenth chapter. It begins with a story about an intern who accidentally deletes important files to demonstrate how threats are not the only concern for file protection. This also illustrates the problem of having a single point of failure, which is solved by backing up important data. McDonough advises the reader on proper cloud storage and local storage, then discusses how to find the best cloud provider for one’s needs. Chapter 15 is about social media and the large amount of fake and spam accounts there that are used by bad actors. The dangers of posting too much personal information, especially concerning recent real-world activities, is reiterated from Chapter 5. McDonough explains how and why third parties engage in data mining on social media. His advice at the end to try to think like a bad actor would when taking countermeasures is very important and should appear more frequently in the book, perhaps even as a sixth “Brilliance in the Basics” item.

The sixteenth chapter is about protecting website access and passwords. The dangers of reusing passwords across sites is repeated, then McDonough gives an elementary explanation of password hashing. He then presents some shocking statistics about how many people fail to change passwords even after they have been cyberattacked. He discusses password managers again, as well as an up-and-coming technology called universal second factor (U2F). For those without such means, McDonough offers a formula for generating modestly strong passwords and several mistakes to avoid.

Chapters 17 and 18 cover computers and mobile devices, respectively. Cryptocurrency finally gets discussed, but only through malware that hijacks a device to mine cryptocurrency. The use of visitor devices by websites to mine cryptocurrency is covered, as is the volunteering of computing power to solve other complex problems. The mobile device port-out scam and the SIM swap scam are explained, then McDonough offers tips for preventing them. He compares and contrasts the security features of iPhones and Androids. When discussing device loss and theft, he cites some disturbing statistics about what people will do when they find someone else’s lost device. His advice not to use jailbroken devices is good for non-experts, but those who are highly knowledgeable can keep such systems secure.

The nineteenth chapter is about home Wi-Fi security. McDonough first warns the reader about outdated security setups, but acknowledges that the most secure setup, WPA2, has been cracked and WPA3 is not yet available. Threats detailed here include freeloading neighbors, malware, and improper router management. Though virtual private networks are mentioned throughout the book, they are not sufficiently explained until this chapter. Chapter 20 covers issues concerning the Internet of Things (IoT). Like the USB sticks from Chapter 5, IoT devices can come infected. The dangers of hacked cars are discussed, followed by problems with botnets, ransomware, and spyware. With the horror stories that McDonough shares about hacked IoT devices, one is left wondering why anyone would want to use them when perfectly functional non-linked devices exist.

The final chapter offers tips specifically for travelers. It begins with a story about Wi-Fi hacking on an airplane, then broadens to public Wi-Fi concerns in general, such as fake networks, man-in-the-middle attacks, packet sniffing, and physically snooping on a user. Next, McDonough discusses scams that tourists may suffer at the hands of locals. The chapter concludes with advice for traveling in general, then advice for how to take extra precautions in foreign countries.

Cyber Smart reads quickly for over 250 pages. The book brings to mind the old proverb, “To survive a bear attack, outrun the person with you.” This is to say that bad actors will always be with us, and they will probably always victimize someone because someone will not use proper security measures. But with McDonough’s advice, that someone need not be you, for being cyber smart is mostly a matter of not being cyber stupid. For the most part, he does an excellent job of leading the reader through the necessary elements of cyber-hygiene, but there are some dubious omissions, unanswered questions, and stylistic issues. The absence of a chapter in Part II dedicated to protecting one’s cryptocurrency holdings stands out, as does the lack of advice throughout the book for users of operating systems other than Windows and Macintosh (e.g. Linux). Some minor typographical errors are present throughout the book, and the doubled table of contents seems redundant.

Though this book is full of important information that can help many people avoid being victimized, and many people are unaware of much of this information at present, one who is familiar with cybersecurity measures is left wondering whether a deeper problem exists that no book like this can solve. But it would be wrong to fault McDonough for trying. A book of this sort unavoidably has a relatively short shelf life, as technology marches on at a rapid pace, and the development of quantum computing will require radical rethinking of some security measures. But for 2019, Cyber Smart is one of the best attempts at advising the average person on cybersecurity, and a second edition can be written when needed.

Rating: 4.5/5

The Not-So-Current Year: 2018 In Review

Though the specific demarcation of the passage from one year into another is a rather arbitrary social construct, it does provide a useful annual period for self-examination and remembrance. Now that 2018 has entered the history books, let us take a look back at a year’s worth of essays and review the not-so-current year.

We begin, of course, with last year’s article of the same kind. Some articles in this list are sequels to articles in that list. Aside from that, we may move on.

Benjamin Welton and I began 2018 by addressing some leftover matters from the end of 2017. He explored the quick decline of Nepal from monarchy to democracy to communism in less than a generation, while I responded to a thoroughly misguided attack by Bill Wirtz on Hans-Hermann Hoppe and other right-libertarians.

The left’s warfare on language and the dangerous potential thereof is important to understand. I began exploring this phenomenon by examining common shortcomings among leftist popular authors, looking for the origins of their follies, and showing how these factors can cause a civil war if left unaddressed. In a follow-up essay, I contemplated how the innovation of language becomes stunted and weaponized in political struggles, as well as what may be done to counter such tendencies.

Book reviews have long been a part of my intellectual output, and 2018 was no different. I read and reviewed less books than in 2017, which included Robert Taylor’s Reactionary Liberty, Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus, Surjit S. Bhalla’s The New Wealth of Nations, James Ledbetter’s One Nation Under Gold, and Insula Qui’s Anarcho-Monarchism.

I began a new series called “Agreeing With Statists For The Wrong Reasons”, in which I consider how government policies which seem terrible at face value can be exploited to achieve liberty and/or undermine statist goals. This was loosely inspired by Morrakiu’s series “Agreeing With Liberals For The Wrong Reasons”, in which he showed how progressives unwittingly help the alt-right. The subjects covered in this series in 2018 included cryptocurrency bans, conscription, anti-discrimination laws, minimum wage, and impeaching Donald Trump. More episodes will come next year.

Insula Qui presented a grand project called “On Libertarianism and Statecraft” to lead into her book Anarcho-Monarchism. The introduction discusses other schools of thought and makes the case for why a libertarian theory of statecraft is necessary. Part I explains the folly of political activism. Part II explores the implications of property rights in a libertarian social order. Part III deals with the differences between states and governments, as well as the basics of private defense. Part IV explains the necessity of governance, what form it might take, and who will govern. Part V considers the effect that trust levels in society may have on the form of a libertarian social order. Part VI explores the relationship between authority and liberty. Part VII uses social contract theory to expand libertarian philosophy. Part VIII considers the nature of the natural elite. Part IX explores the role of trust in society. Part X examines the role of time preference in forming a libertarian social order. Part XI considers the role of externalities that go beyond strictly material concerns. Part XII explains how greed is frequently overrated by libertarians. The series may or may not have more entries.

In 2017, I argued that the United States debt ceiling should be eliminated. However, the debt ceiling is only part of the problem. Another part is the practice known as a government shutdown, and I argued that this practice should also be ended.

On March 9, right-wing activists Martin Sellner and Brittany Pettibone were detained and deported while attempting to enter the United Kingdom to give speeches and interview other rightist personalities. A similar fate also befell Lauren Southern on March 12. I wrote a list of observations about these events.

Following the Parkland shooting, a student movement to restrict access to firearms became prominent. I deconstructed this effort to show how it is orchestrated by the political establishment using tactics common to other such movements.

My glossary of social justice warrior terminology is the most popular article ever posted at Zeroth Position. After two years of continued craziness from radical leftists, I decided to revise and expand it to create a second edition. This is likely to need continual updating, and two years is a proper amount of time between editions, so look for the third edition in 2020.

I began an article series called “The Color Theory of Conflict”, in which I attempted to provide a grand unified theory of conflict. Part I defines the various colors and defends those definitions against likely objections. This was unfortunately put on the back burner, but more parts will come next year.

In human discourse, logical fallacies are quite common. But when opposition to these fallacies goes too far, further fallacies and sub-optimal behaviors can result. I examined the most common examples of this behavior in an effort to counter such second-order problems.

Sometimes, the lens of examination is best turned inward to correct one’s own missteps. Such was the case for an article I wrote in 2017 about the concept of degeneracy, so I published a revision in which I considered the possibility that civilization can be degenerate.

Welton returned with a case that American intervention in Syria is not only not right; it is not even wrong.

My poetic side suddenly came out in May, resulting in song lyrics critical of elected politicians in general. It resurfaced in September with song lyrics about Bitcoin, in November with an anti-election song, and in December with a Bitcoin Christmas song.

Libertarians have mixed views about capital punishment, but no one else seems to have considered the value of forming communal bonds by working together to execute the worst offenders. I did this at great length through the lens of ritual magick. Later, I used the problem of pedophilia among Catholic clergy to consider the limits of capital punishment, and found that there is a strong case for executing child molesters.

Welton offered an excellent history of the rise and fall of the Boy Scouts, along with the characteristics that a replacement organization should have in order to prevent a similar leftist takeover.

Doxxing has long been a problem in political circles, but it became worse in 2018. I reasoned through the limits of its acceptable use, then proposed a comprehensive solution for reining it in to those limits.

Since the beginning of recorded history, a teleological element has been present in historical narratives. I argued against this practice, promoting instead an agnostic historiography.

An incident on cable news over Trump’s immigration policies provided an opportunity for examining useful tactics for making leftists look more unhinged than usual. I showed how Corey Lewandowski’s treatment of Zac Petkanas was a master class in this regard.

I attempted to find the ideal amount of force that a civilization should use to maintain itself, coming to the conclusion that, contrary to mainstream liberalism and libertarianism, the bare minimum is not ideal.

Welton took on an important issue that has long been waiting for a proper reactionary response: the undue reverence given to the Magna Carta by liberals of all stripes.

In 2017, I argued the case for reining in censorious technology giants by threatening the revocation of their incorporation. I followed this up with an argument against the corporate form itself as a creature of statism that would almost certainly not exist in a free society. Continued problems with corporate censorship that touched me personally led me to formulate a holistic approach to solving the problem.

Qui returned with a thorough survey of the producerist school of thought, which has both significant overlap with and significant difference from libertarianism.

On July 23, Social Matter published an article by Mark Christensen in which he argued that conservatives should favor larger government. I welcomed Darien Sumner, the fourth additional writer at Zeroth Position, in August to rebut Christensen’s arguments point-by-point. A September 25 article by Henry Olson that criticized libertarianism from the right merited a more measured response.

Welton and I figured that if libertarians and rightists are going to be slandered as fascists and Nazis no matter what, then we have nothing to lose by examining real Nazis and seeing what can be learned from their example. The result was an excellent piece on the rise and fall of the Sturmabteilung (SA).

The Walking Dead comic series and the television show based on it contain many themes which are of interest to the student of libertarian philosophy and reactionary thought. I explored the many ways in which Negan’s group resembles a state apparatus, as well as what one can learn from those who resist his rule and ultimately overthrow him. The third part was released in 2018, covering the second half of Season 7. The fourth and fifth parts, covering Season 8, were planned for 2018 but will instead appear in early 2019.

In 2016, I wrote a guide to political autism as it pertains to libertarian commentators. I followed up that effort with a similar overview of autistic conservatism.

On September 4–7, the United States Senate held hearings on the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court to replace outgoing Justice Anthony Kennedy. I wrote a list of observations on the events. After Democrats launched an unprecedented smear campaign, I wrote another list of observations.

Nathan Dempsey returned after an 11-month hiatus to begin a quarterly series of updates on his Liberty Minecraft project, the first of which ran on October 24.

Clashes between different strains of political universalism, as well as proselytization into territories ruled by non-universalist governance structures, led to the unprecedented losses of life and property in wars and genocides during the 20th century, and is capable of doing much more damage going forward. I examined the history and practice of universalism, its pathway to genocide, and what libertarians may do about it in a sweeping essay.

Welton offered a history of imperialism and colonialism, considering the bad name it has unjustly acquired, the joint-stock and free state models, and how colonialism might be used to create a libertarian social order.

Black Friday is revered by most libertarians as a celebration of free-market capitalism. I updated my explanation of why this reverence is misplaced.

My final think piece of the year will continue into 2019, but the first part offers a detailed explanation of the concept of immaterial technology.

All in all, it was an interesting year full of occasions to make sharp libertarian and reactionary arguments. May 2019 bring more and better!

Book Review: Anarcho-Monarchism

Anarcho-Monarchism is a collection of 30 essays by libertarian author Insula Qui. The book explores various issues from a libertarian reactionary perspective, all of which factor into a synthesis of anarchy and monarchy.

The introduction sets out the purpose of the book, which is to synthesize liberty and authority in such a way as to avoid the apparent contradictions in doing so. According to Qui, this is done through careful nuance. She recommends an alternate order in which one may read the book, but this is only necessary for those unfamiliar with any libertarian reactionary thought. She includes here a disclaimer that the work is not professionally edited, which unfortunately is more glaringly obvious than in her previous book.

In What is Anarcho-Monarchism?, Qui offers an extended introduction. She proposes that the non-aggression principle is necessary but not sufficient, and that property rights will lead to natural hierarchies that culminate in monarchs. These monarchs are different from the absolute rulers of history, in that they rule based on merit and ability rather than coercion.

The Contradiction of Freedom explores the limitations of freedom as pertains to the mutual incompatibility of each person being free to do as one will, which naturally leads to people violating each other’s freedoms. The differing conceptions of freedom offered by competing political ideologies motivate further conflicts in this regard. She summarizes these conditions thus:

“To fight for freedom qua freedom is to fight for other people to be able to impose their vision of freedom onto you. To fight for freedom is simply to fight for the dominance of an unspecified party, and as such if you fight for freedom you fight for subjugation. However, there is still the slight hope that you will be the one doing the subjugating.”[1]

She resolves this problem by advocating as a pragmatic matter that there must be a pursuit of autonomy to avoid needless conflicts in which people seek to impose their vision of freedom upon everyone else. Qui concludes the essay by denouncing the egoism of Max Stirner as the worst combination of freedom and autonomy.

In The Final Arbiter, Qui deals with the problem of final resolution of disputes. She considers various possibilities for how such a final arbiter may exist outside of a monopolistic legal system. Unfortunately, she accepts the opponent’s framing of the question and spends all of her effort in trying to answer it rather than rejecting the concept of a final arbiter as either nonsensical (in that no person or institution can absolutely guarantee that any issue will be resolved forever with no possibility of review) or guaranteed by nature (the dead cannot dispute and every person eventually dies, so the Grim Reaper is the final arbiter).

The fourth essay is The Centralization of Defence, and it argues against the contention of Robert Nozick and others that market anarchy would eventually be undone by centralization of defense agencies leading to the re-establishment of states. Qui admits the advantages of centralizing defense, such as volume discounts and the reduction of transaction costs. But as she explains,

“[P]eople do not constantly need viable alternatives. Rather, what is necessary is the possibility of alternatives emerging.”[2]

In other words, the mere threat of competition can inspire existing companies to provide better service. But more importantly,

“[T]he system of law enforced by the agencies of defence is independent from those agencies that provide physical protection. There is no one agency that should have control over both law and force, and these industries would always be separate. If these industries are not provided by different agencies, the defence agency would become a dictator and would become what it was supposed to defend against.”[3]

The separation of law creation and law enforcement into entities that are not under the same umbrella would be absolutely necessary to avoid the tyranny of modern nation-states. Finally, there is the problem of a powerful defense agency simply conquering a territory and declaring itself a new state. Qui admits that this is possible but not certain, which while less than ideal, is better than the certainty of the current system.

Pro-War, Anti-Nation offers a strong case for the incompatibility of nationalism with warmongering, noting the dysgenic effect of sending the best men to die, the economic ruin brought by wartime destruction and production diversion, and the loss of moral foundation. Qui argues that true nationalism has been corrupted by imperialism, and restoring non-interventionist thinking is the path back to sanity. To her credit, she recognizes the possibility of restoration of martial virtues in a defensive war.

In The Necessity of Force, Qui argues against the utopian ideas of some left-libertarians who advocate a goal of universal nonviolence. She writes,

“ There will always be people who use force and there will always be people who need to respond to force with force to ensure that the original initiator of violence can be brought to justice. …If there are no people who are willing to use force to secure relative peace for people who do not want to use force, then people who are willing to use violence for personal gains would always achieve unjust outcomes for the sake of themselves.”[4]

She also demonstrates that this need not devolve into a state, as the incentive structures involved give advantages to defenders over aggressors.

Qui considers the corruption of libertarian philosophy for the purpose of appealing to leftists in Brutal Freedom. Here, she considers the flip side of full personal responsibility to its logical conclusion of social Darwinism, though she does not use the term in this essay. Though charity may mitigate brutality somewhat, Qui argues that some brutality will remain, as these charities will only help those who are willing to help themselves and just need a temporary step up.

All Men Are Created Equal is a brief essay that addresses that all too common liberal fiction. As usual,

“Definitions change and juxtaposing a modern notion with a classical one results in a misunderstanding of much thought in the classical tradition.”[5]

As such, she compares modern notions of equality with the classical liberal idea of getting rid of titles of nobility and other such birthrights. This classical idea of human biological diversity and meritocracy is contrasted with the modern idea of equality of outcome. But Qui commits an error at the end, arguing for classical equality instead of natural inequality.

Social Darwinism is given direct treatment in the ninth essay. Qui argues that far from trying to deny such an accusation, capitalists should embrace this sort of thinking. She illuminates the difference between actively killing and passively allowing death, showing expectation of survival to be a revolt against nature. But then she makes a dubious assertion:

“If a system allows people to gain unearned advantages, that system ceases to be a social darwinist [sic] one. This is because it starts to encourage parasitism and negative qualities instead of the advancement of all individuals.”[6]

Left unsaid is what constitutes an unearned advantage. There is also the problem that one does not earn one’s own genetic code, and that parasitism and other negative qualities are part of the evolutionary process. However, she correctly recognizes that a Darwinian process applies not just to who can survive, but who will occupy each station in life. She argues that social Darwinism will prevent charity from being wasted on those who will never become productive members of society, with resources instead flowing to those who prove themselves best at managing them.

In The Rule of Law, Qui briefly contemplates the impossibility of any political system securing the rule of law, as any such system places someone above the law. She argues for a separation of law and state:

“The only solution to this is to remove the managerial position when it comes to law from being legitimized by the coercive use of force and to put law on the same level as every other industry. We can have the managerial position of law be put onto the free market where each person is able to patronize the providers of law and where each person is also free to not do so. Thus the people who are in the position that is traditionally one of governance become reduced to the level of every person who is not within the system of governance. In that manner, it is possible to create a situation where there are no privileged positions and there is real equality before the law.”[7]

Of course, this raises the usual objections of the wealthiest patrons ultimately deciding the law by which enforcers they will hire for which purposes, the free rider problem, and the possibility of re-emerging states, none of which are adequately addressed in the essay.

Against Taxes is the first long essay of the book, and approaches the case against taxation in economic terms rather than the usual moral arguments. Qui uses opportunity cost, price mechanisms, the lack of market accountability of the state, the cost of collecting taxes, the cost of prosecuting tax resistance, wealth transfer from competent stewards to incompetent stewards, and the impossibility of creating a taxation scheme that does not disproportionately harm the poor to make this case. She concludes the essay by debunking the idea of public goods.

In High Trust, Qui provides an overview of various types of individualism, settling on ethical individualism as most conducive to a libertarian social order. She also considers the role of homogeneity in strengthening trust. Unlike mainstream libertarians, Qui accepts the impact of genetics:

“Due to evolutionary pressures in different ecosystems and climates, genes change in humans when they are in different areas of the world. [T]hese genes affect the culture and they create the basis for culture. Furthermore, even if a member of a genetic group comes into contact with the culture of another, they still have the genetic incentives of their original culture.”[8]

The essay concludes by explaining why high trust is important. Where Qui goes astray is with her insistence on nonviolent means of enforcing social norms; violence has almost always entered into this process and will likely continue to do so. There is also no mention of the possibility for technology to reduce the need for trust.

In Liberty, Property, Society, Qui argues against critics who accuse libertarians of being anti-social because they reject coercive institutions. Defining liberty as self-determination and explaining property as a rational method for allocating scarce resources, she concludes that this allows for social interaction to be maximized. She explains the difference between capitalism and corporatism, which critics of libertarianism (and many libertarians as well) frequently confuse. The essay concludes by exploring the reversal of the argument, that a lack of liberty and property will undermine society.

With The Family in Capitalism, Qui begins addressing the relationship between libertarianism and the far-right. She addresses the far-right contention that capitalism is anti-family. Unlike left-libertarians, many of whom view the breakdown of traditional family structures as a positive, Qui argues that the state and the corporatism it enables has done this to everyone’s detriment. She shows that both states and corporations are incentivized to destroy the family as a challenger and impediment to their power. She understands that capitalism is an amoral process; garbage inputs result in garbage production, while good inputs result in the production of virtue. The ending deals with women in the workforce, and bears quoting at length:

“[T]here is the…point that capitalism pushes women into the workforce…so there is a need for fascist economics to avoid this phenomenon. This argument has a compelling point. Capitalists are directly benefited by there being a surplus of labour to make those who own capital able to lower wages in the economy. This would eventually correct itself and, given enough time, the supply of capital would reach the demand for capital. But capitalists hold political power in an unfree market. We can say that when the capitalists hold both political and economic power, capitalism has inherent forces that destroy the family. This cannot be achieved with economic power alone. There would be no way to force women into the workforce and keep profits from increasing the size of the workforce. However, in a free market, the capitalists cannot prevent additional capital from entering the market and cannot alter the amount of labour in the economy by incentive structures.

Furthermore, it is simply profitable due to the division of labour for women to stay home and take care of the children while the father works. This is for multiple reasons, usually men earn more since they are more productive and more willing to work longer hours. Women are more apt at taking care of children and more emotionally attached to the process of child-rearing. Thus, if a couple aims to produce healthy children in a good family with enough wealth, that couple needs a division of labour that would fit the strengths of all people in the family.”[9]

The Case for Tradition argues against “libertine hedonihilism,” as Qui terms it. This is the left-libertarian view of liberty as freedom to engage in any degenerate behavior whatsoever as long as no one else is aggressed against. She argues that the family is the bedrock of society, therefore a stable libertarian order will be undermined by anything that erodes family values. She writes,

“Every society is organized along some lines, even a society with no coercive power system creates a system of exclusion, rules of interaction, and other norms to stabilize social life under the system. These social foundations may be implicit or explicit, however, they will always exist and thus we should make sure that the everpresent [sic] organizational principles result in a society that produces the best quality of life for the people involved. The libertine recoils at this statement as he firmly believes that all people should be left alone to be as degenerate as they want to be and no person should be bothered by any sort of moralism. But even the libertine must function within a society and that society will have organizational principles.”[10]

Qui explains the difference between individualism as isolation and individualism as independence. She then describes tradition thus:

“[T]radition is not to be understood as the corrupted american [sic] concept of tradition. So-called family values, military histories, and constitutions do not constitute a historical basis for organizing society. Rather, tradition is the all-encompassing concept of the cultural heritage and the knowledge of all people involved in those traditions. Tradition is the manifestation of the cultural group that created the traditions. …Simply put, tradition is the spontaneous historical order of a nation and to not respect tradition would be to not respect proper social structures.”[11]

She urges libertarians to appeal to rightists instead of leftists as a more natural fit, much as Murray Rothbard did in his 1992 essay Right-Wing Populism. She finishes the essay by thinking of tradition as a collection of best practices through the ages, which while imperfect, was good enough to bring people this far.

In Community, Tradition, Liberty, the same matters are approached from the angle of community as a mitigating factor for the degeneracy that can result if people regard themselves as atomized individuals. The role of social capital as an economic factor is also discussed, along with lower transaction costs and better economic calculation as people form tight-knit communities. She then considers the problems of implementing traditional values absent liberty.

The Two Laws of Nature begins a streak of five controversial essays, in which Qui attempts to bridge the liberty-authority divide. She describes her undertaking as follows:

“In the niche sphere of radical politics, you find two very contrasting American intellectual traditions with their own notions of what is the natural law. American white nationalists and fascists occasionally claim that the law of nature forms a brutal order of self-defence and racial animosity. Radical libertarians interpret the law of nature as something that guarantees rights to each person. I would propose a synthesis of these two laws of nature to combine them into a proper set of moral values. This could form a social order that is a combination of libertarian and extreme traditionalist-nationalist values. Furthermore, this synthesis is highly similar to classical concepts of natural law which combine both personal morality and rights.”[12]

She considers fascist ethics as being rooted in animal behavior and adapted to take account of the differences between humans and lower animals. This sets up hierarchies as the natural form of organization, while egalitarianism and democracy are revolts against nature. By contrast, Qui views libertarianism as constructed from reason, from which the non-aggression principle and private property rights emerge. But curiously, she refers to libertarian theory as “empty tautologies.” She describes her proposed synthesis thus:

“Each person ought to value their tribe, know their place in society, attempt to form a family, and defend themselves. This is not to say that each person can succeed at all of these, there are certain inherent limitations. [H]owever, these things should be required for living a perfectly moral life. The tribe does not have to be a race or a nation, the tribe would rather be the community in which you find yourself.”[13]

The next essay is National Socialism and Libertarianism, and it deals with common premises shared between libertarians and national socialists, which are commonly believed to be diametrically opposed. Qui believes these to be that society should emerge organically, opposition to parasitism, recognition that the state is an institution of force, and intolerance of communism. The manifestation of each of these differs greatly; is the parasite the state or Jewry, are parasites best removed by the market or the state, and so on. She closes with a warning:

“[I]t is very easy to become disillusioned with freedom when one realizes for which purposes freedom is used. Because there are overlaps in the general worldview of fascists and libertarians, it becomes easy to simply remove the seemingly problematic aspect of freedom that leads to various ills within libertarianism.”[14]

“However, this does not mean that libertarians are similar to fascists or that it is necessarily libertarian to intermingle with fascists.”[15]

Authoritarianism Versus Libertarianism deals head-on with the central issue of the book. Qui argues that liberty and authority are incompatible in the political realm, but can come together outside of politics. Again defining liberty as self-determination, she finds the enemy of liberty to be not authority but coercion. She writes,

“When strong command structures and a social order predicated upon a strong focus on authority can defeat coercion at large in society, then authoritarianism is more libertarian than perceivedly unauthoritarian structures. This may seem impossible. After all, when there are strong structures of command it seems like there could not be any room to exercise liberty. But this ignores human action and psychology. These strong command structures do not liberate people from command structures but rather give them the liberty to decide what they do outside authority.”[16]

This kind of liberty under authority comports well with both traditional and neoreactionary thinking. Qui also has an explanation for why this is poorly understood among libertarians:

“But the people who want to be left alone to practice their liberty are also the people who are viscerally opposed to being constrained by command structures. This means that they often overlook how these seemingly oppressive structures can actually benefit the ability to exercise control over your own life. A government that makes a few demands in a very authoritative manner should always be preferable to a government that makes many demands in a democratic manner.”[17]

She spends the remainder of the essay considering the benefits of non-coercive command structures over coercive ones as well as a lack thereof.

Qui’s flirtation with neoreaction continues in Strong and Small. Here, she argues that an ideal state exercises hegemonic control and strong political authority, but does not needlessly involve itself in every facet of society. She uses public choice theory to show that states are inclined to grow, either by becoming stronger or larger (or both). She contends that a strong state will primarily look after its own interests, while a weak state will do the bidding of various special interests. But this contention is dubious because a strong state can have special interests and factionalism internally rather than externally, leading to similar problems. Her conclusion is that a state can either function as an anarcho-tyranny (as many currently do) or as a liberal autocracy, a strong state that does very little.

Libertarianism and Fascism began as an article here at Zeroth Position, though the version in this book is significantly different. Qui compares the spectrum between libertarianism and neoliberalism that leads to left-libertarianism to the spectrum between libertarianism and fascism that can lead to a type of libertarian reaction. She provides a history of the various fascist movements, though this history is not exhaustive. Next comes an overview of fascist ideology, which Qui explains as placing the advancement of the nation above all else. Of a potential synthesis of libertarianism and fascism, she writes,

“Fascism undoubtedly preserves property more than left-wing socialism does, thus fascist sympathies cannot be construed as completely anti-libertarian. But one cannot take both nation and property as ultimate goals. This is because the conflicts between these goals would have to be solved by means of arbitrary decision. This means that libertarianism and fascism cannot be combined as ideologies because their premises are different. One may combine republicanism, minarchism, monarchism, anarcho-capitalism, etc. into a broad political movement, as the premises of these positions are sufficiently similar. But there is no way to create a big tent movement that can accurately represent the interests of both fascists and libertarians; the premises come into too much conflict.”[18]

She concludes that although fascists and libertarians are incompatible in the long-term, they can work together against common enemies by setting aside their incompatibilities to deal with common enemies.

Conversely, the lengthy essay Producerism was later adapted from this book into a Zeroth Position article. Qui’s contention that efficiency is the base value of libertarianism is questionable at best. She describes producerism (differently from most sources) as trying to increase production in general, both of material and immaterial goods. Her claim that producerism is the only metaphysically consistent form of political philosophy requires more support than is given, as she does not prove uniqueness as needed. Much of the rest of the essay repeats material from earlier in the book. This essay would have benefited greatly from exploring the dangers of overproduction as a source of degeneracy instead of containing so much repetition.

Communitarian Libertarianism deals with yet another possible synthesis between libertarianism and another school of thought. Qui blames the strategic errors of Friedrich Hayek for the top-down focus of political libertarianism, which has so far failed to convince elites to be more libertarian for entirely predictable reasons. Though she correctly notes that warfare against the state would be required for the masses to implement libertarianism, she does not contemplate the possibility of a rogue elite leading the way to liberty, as neoreaction does. Qui instead focuses on building communities as a bulwark against the leviathan state, as this is what worked in pre-modern times.

The provocatively titled The Final Solution to the Banking Question argues for a fundamental reform of banking systems. Qui begins by explaining what is wrong with contemporary banking, which essentially functions as a globalist system of debt slavery. Before proposing a solution, she describes a conflict between two sets of critics of banking:

“Our approach to banking should not be about turning a blind eye to unethical action, rather it should wholly be a method of critique and instituting a market solution to a state problem. And there are plenty of people who critique banks from an anti-market perspective. They propose different solutions as they feel that banks are unethical by nature and not by circumstance.”[19]

She provides a standard free-market defense of interest as a measure of time preference. Her proposed solution is quite similar to the Banking Act of 1933 (better known as Glass-Steagall), in that she would separate savings and loan banks from investment banks, disallowing any institution to practice both. Strangely, there is no mention of cryptocurrency and its potential to eliminate the need for banks as we know them.

Familism refers to primacy of the family rather than the individual or any larger collective. Qui argues that families cannot be separated into discrete sub-units in economic analysis, as the income and spending of the individuals is too intertwined. More broadly,

“In cultures that have not been subject to American cultural imperialism, there is often no such thing as individualism divorced from the family. In most of the world, individualism does not imply that the individual should be independent from the constraints of the family, but rather that individuals should be focused on their own family. However, due to the increasingly westernized [sic] nature of the world, this is not a commonplace meaning.”[20]

She contends that unless families consist of degenerate and/or aggressive people, alienated individualism and non-familial collectivism are less optimal than familism. According to Qui, one redefines one’s family through redefining oneself, and advancing one’s family by giving rise to the next generation is the purpose of economic action.

Neo-Feudalism explores the common ground between libertarianism and feudalism, which is quite rich despite libertarianism’s origins in anti-feudalism. Qui makes the case that a natural landed aristocracy will arise out of libertarian standards for property ownership, but the absence of coercion would allow for more turnover of incompetent landowners. Second, the defense structures of anarcho-capitalism greatly resemble that of feudal lords, but Qui again hand-waves the issue of potential re-establishment of states. Even so, the destruction wrought by modern nation-states dwarfs anything under feudalism. She also notes the benefit of using mercenaries for lessening “my country, right or wrong” sentiments.

The Case for Guilds argues that trade unions are a statist corruption of the older system of guilds, which should be reborn and adapted for the future economy. Qui highlights the issue of guilds being run by the best in their line of work, while unions are run by the best at rent-seeking. The means by which guilds ensure quality in ways that unions, trade schools, and universities do not are also discussed.

In Greatness, Qui contemplates the conflict between modernity and potential for excellence. She blames the Enlightenment for abandoning the virtues of previous eras:

“Rationalism became replaced by populism, religious tolerance became replaced by institutional secularism, human advancement became replaced by anti-traditionalism, and an opposition to absolute and tyrannical monarchs became an opposition to monarchy. This was not helped by the opponents of the enlightenment [sic] as they were not staunch traditionalists, but rather simply anti-rationalists and similarly opposed to greatness. They only helped create the monsters of the enlightenment and the popular philosophy that started the downfall of the world.”[21]

This assessment of the Counter-Enlightenment is only partially accurate; for example, Joseph de Maistre opposed a rational foundation for governance because he believed it would only lead to arguments devolving into violence over whether this or that particular government was legitimate. Qui goes on to expose the contradiction between popular democratic will and eternal values. She then describes the progression from Enlightenment values to progressivism:

“Without equality, liberty, fraternity we would have never reached egality, entitlement, collectivity. It is a logical progression from wanting to abolish institutional privilege to wanting to abolish every kind of privilege. The same is true with wanting the ability to be undisturbed by other people and the ability to be undisturbed by the fundamental realities of the world. Respect for your fellow man can easily lead to demanding that the focus of each person be on their fellow man.”[22]

In Kings by Merit, Qui advocates authority as the means for creating virtue, which she believes liberty cannot do on its own. Why this would involve removing authority from economics or politics is left an open question, as degeneracy is especially prone to manifest there. She describes the libertarian king as a societal patriarch who is followed voluntarily for his leadership skills, which she believes is necessary for most people to avoid being led astray by the various demagogues that arise from time to time. Qui views the king’s function as combating parasitism and embodying virtue. She writes,

“The king would logically then be the person in society who has the highest degree of virtue and the highest degree of merit, voluntary monarchy is the ultimate meritocracy as the most qualified person would have the most power. The…person who is the most righteous and most capable would be the king. …Monarchy in any other way and democracy in all ways results in situations in which the rulers are people who do not embody virtue, although this happens far more with democracy than with monarchy. It does not mean that involuntary rule will always necessarily be against virtue, but we need exemplary kings to embody virtue and we only get exemplary kings through voluntary monarchy”[23]

The final essay, For an Anarchist Monarchy, closes the book on its central theme. Qui discusses the failures of combining monarchy with democracy, then proposes a synthesis of monarchy with anarchy by retaining the best principles of both while mitigating the potentially destructive aspects of both with a voluntary monarchic system.

The book ends with a single page advocating further reading of her series “On Libertarianism and Statecraft” here at Zeroth Position.

The first word that comes to mind when describing the entire collection is ‘unfinished.’ The grammatical constructions and punctuation are awkward throughout. A book of this many essays should be categorized into sections of similar subject matters, and the table of contents lacks page numbers. Each of the essays would benefit from a much deeper bibliography, as there are many important points which are simply asserted without proper support. The essays are also somewhat disjointed, in that they do not refer to each other to save space. That being said, the thoughts expressed in this book are sufficiently intriguing to merit reading despite these flaws.

Rating: 3.5/5

References:

  1. Qui, Insula (2018). Anarcho-Monarchism. p. 22.
  2. Ibid., p. 38.
  3. Ibid., p. 40.
  4. Ibid., p. 57.
  5. Ibid., p. 66.
  6. Ibid., p. 71.
  7. Ibid., p. 80.
  8. Ibid., p. 104.
  9. Ibid., p. 123–4.
  10. Ibid., p. 127.
  11. Ibid., p. 129.
  12. Ibid., p. 146.
  13. Ibid., p. 153.
  14. Ibid., p. 162.
  15. Ibid., p. 160.
  16. Ibid., p. 168.
  17. Ibid., p. 169.
  18. Ibid., p. 189–90.
  19. Ibid., p. 224–5.
  20. Ibid., p. 232.
  21. Ibid., p. 257.
  22. Ibid., p. 259–60.
  23. Ibid., p. 268–9.

Song Lyrics: SEC Got Run Over By A Bitcoin

To the tune of “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” by Randy Brooks.

Chorus:
SEC got run over by a Bitcoin
Walking home from the office Christmas Eve
You can say there’s no such thing as karma
But as for crypto users, we believe

Verse 1:
They did too much regulating
And we tried to tell them so
But they hate all innovation
So they did all that they could to block the road
When we tried to get around them
They made threats to shut us down
But there’s no clear target to strike
For the blockchain is decentralized, you clowns

Chorus

Verse 2:
Now we point and laugh at the Fed
They’re not taking this too well
Wondering how to run their debt scam
If their phony fiat money burns in hell
‘Tis the season for green candles
Hope our trades are in the black
Don’t forget to check the markets
Before you spend Bitcoin that you can’t get back (No charge-backs!)

Chorus

Verse 3:
Now the Lambo’s in the garage
And the pizza’s hot and spiced, ahh!
And the chikun is arising
So the moon is shining brightly through the night
Time to help our friends and neighbors
Get some crypto for themselves
And there should be no BitLicense
That keeps businesses from bringing in the wealth

Chorus

Sing it Satoshi!

Chorus

Merry Christmas

An Introduction to Immaterial Technology, Part I

Merriam-Webster defines technology as “the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area”, “a capability given by the practical application of knowledge”, “a manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge”, and “the specialized aspects of a particular field of endeavor”. There is an inclination to think of technology in terms of physical goods, but such material manifestations are only made possible by immaterial forms of technology. These consist of behaviors, beliefs, and relationships that are used for social organization. This has historically been called social technology, but we will introduce the term immaterial technology to avoid conflation with material technologies that are used for social organization, as has occurred with the former term in recent times.[1,2] Immaterial technologies include (but are not limited to) political power, laws, cultural norms, religions, symbols, decision-taking systems, information transfer mediation, and behavior pattern creation among individuals and groups.[2]

The idea of immaterial technology originated with Charles Richmond Henderson, who referred to it as social science and social art. In his terminology, social science makes predictions, while social art introduces improvements to society.[3] In 1901, he defined social technology as “a system of conscious and purposeful organization of persons in which every actual, natural social organization finds its true place, and all factors in harmony cooperate to realize an increasing aggregate and better proportions of the ‘health, wealth, beauty, knowledge, sociability, and rightness’ desires.”[4] In the 1920s, Ernest Burgess and Thomas D. Eliot broadened this definition to include results from psychology and other social studies.[5,6]

These concepts took on a distinctly Marxist flavor in the 1930s (and have never truly lost it), as both social technology and its intentional use to achieve particular goals, known as social engineering, became associated with the socioeconomic plans of the Soviet Union. The Soviet economist Yevgeni Preobrazhensky defined social technology as “the science of organized production, organized labor, of organized systems of production relations, where the legality of economic existence is expressed in new forms.”[7] Karl Popper criticized the Soviet-Marxist theory and use of social technology. He distinguished piecemeal social engineering, which adopts “the method of searching for, and fighting against, the greatest and most urgent evils of society, rather than searching for, and fighting for, its greatest ultimate good,” from utopian social engineering, which seeks “an ideal state, using a blueprint of society as a whole, is one which demands a strong centralized rule of a few, and which therefore is likely to lead to a dictatorship.” According to Popper, the former was democratic while communism and fascism were examples of the latter.[8]

Just like material technology, immaterial technology is often complex. Although immaterial technology can be subject to design, it does not always have a clear inventor, instead being produced by a vast iterative process for which no single person can take credit or blame. In this sense, the development of immaterial technology bears some resemblance to Darwinian natural selection. This necessarily makes it more difficult to understand, but it is vital for any practitioner of statecraft or contributor to political theory to understand the role of immaterial technology because the types available in a particular place or time form part of the boundary conditions within which a civilization located there will develop. Moreover, it is the advance or regress of immaterial technology that determines not only how societies will evolve, but how they can evolve.

To gain a greater understanding of immaterial technology, we will first explore the nature of interaction with technology in general, then apply this to immaterial technology in particular. In Part II, we will examine proper and improper modes of functionality of immaterial technology, explore the concept of social engineering, then consider how to apply immaterial technology toward the purpose of eucivic social engineering.

Levels of Interaction

Let us begin by considering the eight levels of interaction that a subject may have with a particular piece of technology. These can be illustrated by considering various responses to encountering a physical artifact. We will use for this purpose an iconic firearm: the Colt Single Action Army. Designed by William Mason and Charles Brinckerhoff Richards in 1872 and released the following year, it was the United States Army’s service revolver for the next two decades (three decades for the Artillery Model), and has remained popular in the civilian market to this day even though it has been outpaced in terms of performance.[9] Although this is an example of material technology, the same levels apply to the handling of immaterial technology.

First, a technology may be beyond one’s understanding. Consider a snake slithering across the ground who happens upon our revolver. The snake may investigate, but will find no use for it, for a snake is both physically and mentally incapable of using a firearm and understanding its use. Firearms made for humans by humans are simply outside the context of a snake’s ordinary existence. The most primitive response to a technology is to ignore it, and beyond a momentary examination, this is precisely what the snake will do unless it manages to accidentally discharge the firearm.

Second, one may use a technology in a manner inconsistent with its intended purpose. Suppose that our revolver is found by a gorilla. The gorilla will not understand how a firearm is intended to be used, and may not be physically capable of getting its finger into the trigger guard, but it may find that the gun can be smashed into fruits and nuts to crack them open. This is not the function that a revolver is built to perform, but it can serve this purpose. To understand another form of misuse, imagine a small child encountering our revolver. A toddler can fire a gun, but is likely to accidentally kill himself or someone else because he is mentally incapable of handling and using it properly. This form of misuse occurs not because the proper use of the technology is beyond the limits of the user’s abilities, but because the user’s abilities are not yet developed to handle the technology with competence. Misuse in this case is to be understood as inability to understand the proper operation of a technology; technically proper use for evil purposes, such as a criminal using a revolver as a murder weapon, is another matter to be discussed in Part II.

Third, one may be able to use a technology but be unable to repair or replicate it. Suppose our revolver is sent through a time portal to ancient Rome. It is likely that people from this context would figure out how to use the revolver. However, once the ammunition runs out or the gun breaks, they would not be able to keep using it because they did not know how to make gunpowder or manufacture the parts to repair it. Note that one can be at this level in the short-term due to a lack of material resources, in the medium-term due to a lack of knowledge, or in the long-term due to physical or mental limitations.

Fourth, one may be able to repair a technology but not replicate it. Suppose our revolver is sent through a different time portal to a gunsmith of the late 16th century. Matchlock firearms had just been invented[10], but the development of cartridges was still far into the future. A gunsmith from this time could probably repair a Colt SAA if he could figure out the mechanically indexing cylinder, but a user would still be limited by ammunition. Note that the gunsmith of this era may seek to avoid this limitation by re-purposing it as a matchlock revolver rather than a cartridge revolver. Repairs that are technically improper but functionally useful are an important aspect of immaterial technology as well as material technology.

Fifth, one may have the ability to replicate a technology but not innovate it. In modern times, copies and near-copies of the Colt SAA are made by Beretta, U.S. Fire Arms Manufacturing Company, and STI International. This level can be difficult to distinguish from the next. Efforts to invent a new technology are rarely uncontested; it only appears to be so because of the human tendency to remember winners instead of also-rans. Additionally, replicas manufactured later tend to be enhanced in some way that was unavailable when the original was invented; e.g., the modern STI version of the Colt SAA has a modified hand/spring assembly designed for more durability, thus placing it in the sixth level. In some cases, this level is reached and not surpassed because a particular technology cannot be further improved but is useful long-term in its current form, thus avoiding the higher levels.

Sixth, one may have the ability to innovate a technology. Here we include both invention of a technology and making improvements upon it, for most inventions are improvements upon prior inventions. After all, it would be rather myopic to treat the development of magazine-fed semi-automatic pistols as a separate line of technology rather than a different branch on the same technology tree. With respect to the Colt SAA, Mason and Richards were at this level, along with later gunsmiths who improved upon their design.

Seventh, one might take notice of a technology but decline its use because one already has superior technology. Suppose that an away team from Star Trek happened upon a Colt SAA. They are just as vulnerable to bullets as humans are today, but their phasers are generally superior weapons to firearms. Even so, they might find a revolver useful if their phasers should become inoperable or unavailable for some reason. In other words, if one’s current technology moves down to the third level and then fails, a less advanced technology may move down to levels of use from the higher levels of neglect.

Eighth, one may ignore a technology not because one is too primitive for it, but because one is too advanced for it. Suppose a Colt SAA is found millennia from now by an advanced “species” of sentient robots. Perhaps they are made of materials beyond our understanding, have an energy shield that vaporizes incoming projectiles, or can transfer their “consciousness” out of one robotic body and into another. Whatever the mechanism may be, they are immune to bullets. While they may have interest in such an artifact as archaeological evidence and/or a museum piece, it is not a useful technology for them. Just like the first level, this level is the result of broader context, but now the positions of subject and technology are reversed.

Further Observations

Let us make a few additional observations before applying these levels to immaterial technology. Note that this system refers to individual technologies, so each subject is at a particular level with each technology. Thus, a person or a civilization may be at level three with respect to one technology while being at level seven with respect to another.

Whereas a productive discussion of immaterial technology necessarily dwells on the practical and useful, we are primarily concerned with the middle six levels and not the first or eighth. Technologies which are so far ahead of or behind a particular subject as to be in level one or level eight tend to be matters of speculation. The first level is primarily of interest to experimental archaeologists, while the eighth level represents Outside Context Problems of one form or another. That being said, there is a nebulous boundary between the first two levels; just as a snake or a toddler may accidentally discharge a firearm, one may attempt to use methods of social engineering that are beyond one’s comprehension, with randomly destructive results. There is generally a greater gulf between levels two and three, as a certain mental capacity is required to cross this boundary. Accordingly, it is more difficult for a civilization to fall back from level three to level two than to fall through other level boundaries, as this is indicative of a general loss of knowledge that only accompanies great cataclysms. Aside from such disasters, the general trend is for technology to advance.[Footnote 1]

Levels three through five are much closer than they might appear to be. Though there can be many centuries of developmental difference between these levels in a particular technology, as there were between ancient Rome and 19th century America in the above example, the ingenuity of humans (and presumably other sentient lifeforms) allows for advanced technology to be reverse-engineered with astonishing rapidity. Should someone manage to send a relatively modern weapon back to that time, such weaponry would likely be in common use by perhaps a century later.[Footnote 2] In the same vein, level four is a spectrum of sorts. At the low end, only the most basic repairs may be performed, and losing even this ability returns one to level three. At the high end, the ability to repair blends into the ability to replicate as the production of repair parts eventually leads to the ability to produce copies of the entire artifact, thus blurring the boundary between levels four and five.

Level six requires yet another step in intellectual ability, as inventing one’s own technology is more difficult than figuring out how to use extant resources. Progressing along one branch of technology is the natural result of this level over time, but will usually lead to a different kind of technology, thus advancing one to level seven. Failure to make the transition to level six or level seven is a sign of stagnation, which usually precedes a decline. At level seven, we find one more important observation: “inferior” is not a synonym for “bad” when it comes to technology. If a rival is expecting to encounter more advanced technology, then using less advanced technology may be an effective surprise, as the rival may not have prepared defenses for it. Thus, archaic technology need not be discarded and should not be forgotten until one is at level eight with respect to it.

The eighth level represents an enormous step in ability, by far the greatest of all the level transitions. So great, in fact, that it is difficult to imagine a technology with respect to which humans at the time of this writing are at level eight. Even the most primitive tools of pre-human primates have modern improvements that perform the same functions more effectively, but the root functions are still necessary. Therefore, we are at level seven with respect to them. To be at level eight with respect to a hand ax, for instance, is to be so advanced as to have no need to use physical objects to apply force to other objects. To use another Star Trek example, the Q Continuum is at this level.

Application to Immaterial Technology

With the eight levels of technological interaction hopefully well-explained, let us apply them to immaterial technology. Here we will use several examples to illustrate some phenomena which do not generally occur with material technologies. As mentioned earlier, we will focus on levels two through seven, as this is where subjects are with respect to all useful and comprehensible immaterial technologies. We will proceed through these levels out of order for reasons which will soon become clear.

It must be noted that not all immaterial technologies are useful to all beings. For example, patriarchy would make no sense to a species that reproduces asexually. For them, patriarchy would be non-scoreable on the eight-level scale; regardless of their ability to understand the concepts involved, it would be impossible for them to apply such knowledge unless their biology were to change. One could only make an educated guess at their development with respect to this immaterial technology by examining similar technologies, such as those involved in their dealings with other species.

Invention and Replication

Let us begin with level six, for no technology can be used, misused, repaired, replicated, or improved upon before it is invented. As with material technology, people invent immaterial technology because they believe it will improve their lives in some way by giving them additional capabilities through the practical application of knowledge. In other words, to the extent that immaterial technology is the product of deliberate design, people are seeking to alter social structures to produce greater net goods per unit of effort. In the absence of deliberate design, immaterial technologies build up over time as cultural traditions through a process of survival of the sufficiently fit. These efforts fail at times for reasons which will be explored in Part II, but the intent is always the same if one remembers that what constitutes “greater net goods” is subjective because value is subjective. We see again that most inventions are built upon prior inventions, or at least have necessary prerequisites. For instance, one does not get democracy if there is not timocracy first. The most notable difference is that advances in immaterial technology are not necessarily improvements; using the previous example, though democracy seems to be a natural progression from timocracy, this was regarded as a devolution from good governance to tyranny of the majority for most of history, and for good reason. Of course, accounting for such false advances blurs the distinction between levels six and seven, but the theory must adapt to reality, not vice versa.

Next, let us discuss level five. Once an immaterial technology is invented, it must be replicated in the minds of enough people to make its practice possible. After all, one does not have a männerbund of ten men providing defense for a tribe of thousands or a religion with a dozen believers providing moral guidance for a great empire. In order to grow to the point of practical use, an immaterial technology must produce a perceived benefit for the right people, which is to say that the elites must find it superior to what they already use. Here we see another difference versus material technology. It is rare for there to be a successful effort to suppress the adoption of physical inventions; such efforts tend to be targeted and suppressed in short order.[11] Only when these physical inventions are intertwined with immaterial values that oppose those in power do elites spring into action against material progress, as happened in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge.[12–14] Immaterial technologies which work against current elites are far more likely to be suppressed, such as heretical religious doctrines or alternative political systems.

When immaterial developments are not hindered, their proliferation is somewhat different from that of material technologies. Many societies have intellectual property laws that slow the advance of physical invention by restraining market forces to give inventors a monopoly on production for a number of years. Although these laws frequently deter the spread of ideas by lessening the availability of the media in which they are expressed, the ideas themselves are not scarce or rivalrous. Once released into the public domain in one way or another, they tend to remain there and be used freely. In the strictest sense, the replication of immaterial technology is as simple as you reading this article after I have written it. Failure in this sense is most unusual, for language is one of the most basic immaterial technologies. However, the use and repair of immaterial technology after replication is much more complex.

The adaptation of an immaterial technology from one societal context into another typically only occurs on a mutatis mutandis basis. The culture which produces an immaterial technology will necessarily leave its imprints on it, and some aspects of this may be incompatible with another culture. For example, Islamic feminism looks quite different from Western feminism because it must contend with another dominant set of immaterial technologies (the religion of Islam and everything that comes with it) that will not allow feminism to be expressed in the same ways that it is in the West. This kind of adaptation leads us into the matters of repair and maintenance.

Repair and Maintenance

The fourth level, that of repair, is quite different with immaterial technology. Indeed, maintenance may be a better term for what is done with ideas, especially when they still seem to function as intended. Whereas continuous replication in the sense of instructing future generations in the use of particular immaterial technologies is an essential part of this maintenance, the boundary between levels four and five is blurred once more. But education is only one aspect of this level; there are several others to discuss.

The proper maintenance and repair of immaterial technology involves the defense of orthodoxy against heresy, enforcement of social norms, restoration of lost traditions, and adaptation to conditions. An immaterial technology cannot be maintained if it is replaced by another, so it is necessary for the brahmins of a society to defend the immaterial technologies in use against alternatives whose advocates seek to replace the current paradigm. Contrary to the liberal ideology prevalent in modern times, this behavior has no inherent morality; the good or evil of suppressing heretical viewpoints depends on whether the immaterial technology being protected is proper or degenerate compared to the ideas being suppressed, and immaterial technologies that function well can still require such protection. The kshatriyas also have a role to play in this defense, for their role is the defense of civilization against enemies foreign and domestic, and immaterial technologies that can be wielded to wreak havoc upon social order certainly qualify.

Unfortunately, there are many cases in which the defense of proper immaterial technologies fails and degenerate forms manage to dominate a society. Even worse is that the very mechanisms that once reinforced a healthy social order are turned against that purpose. When this happens, a restoration is necessary. This involves purging the degenerate forms and reintroducing proper immaterial technology. The details of performing this operation are a primary concern of most schools of reactionary thought.

The role of adaptation to conditions was partly discussed in the previous section, but only in the sense of immaterial technologies crossing borders between societies and making necessary changes to accommodate the inherent differences between peoples. Changes must also be made to deal with temporal differences; just as there was a cultural difference between Han Dynasty China and the Roman Empire, there is a difference between Rome two millennia ago and Rome today. Shifts in demographics, economics, and even geology can alter the cultural institutions of a society, which must keep pace with conditions without being subordinate to them.

Improper maintenance and repair usually takes the form of doing the above incompetently, whether accidentally or maliciously, and tends to result in failure of the immaterial technology. But there is another form which need not end in failure, and is done out of necessity by well-intentioned people who are doing their best but are in over their heads. Bastiaan Niemand uses the example of horse-drawn cars in rural India to illustrate this phenomenon. He writes,

“First, a horse-drawn carriage is replaced by a car. The car soon becomes a junker, which is even worse than a carriage. So the junker is discreetly retrofitted into a jugaad horse-drawn car. The jugaad car looks like a car, but it only works because it is, in fact, powered by a horse. Yet it doesn’t even work as well as a horse because it has to pretend to be a car.

…[It is] likely that proper horse-drawn carriages existed in that part of rural India within living memory. But imagine that you have grown up without ever having seen a working carriage (let alone a working automobile, for that matter). All you know is horse-drawn cars. You might harbor vague doubts that things are not quite fitting together as envisioned, but compared to what? Who would you even ask about your suspicions? Everyone you know drives a horse-drawn car, even as the rusting frames seem to require more urgent maintenance every year.”[15]

The word jugaad is borrowed from Hindi, and roughly means “makeshift” in its adjective usage. As a verb, it means “to make existing things work with meager resources”. Niemand applies this idea to various immaterial technologies in his article, but describes only part of the cycle; in the example of the jugaad car, the rusting frames will eventually require greater repairs than can be performed. This leaves people riding horses and carrying only what will fit in their saddlebags. Eventually, someone rediscovers how to build chariots, then carriages and wagons. Perhaps the next time that something like an automobile comes along, the resources to maintain it will be present. Otherwise, the cycle begins again, as entire societies generally do not reject as transformative a technology as an automobile. The same sort of cycle can be seen in immaterial technologies; the political doctrine of anacyclosis described by Polybius, in which rule progresses through monarchy, kingship, tyranny, aristocracy, oligarchy, democracy, ochlocracy, and back to monarchy, is an example.[16]

As with material technology, level four is a spectrum. At the low end, some civilizations prove incapable of repairing and maintaining their mechanisms of social organization, resulting in decline that leads to foreign conquest, a dark age, or both. In the middle range, this can be forestalled by the jugaad method discussed above, but this sort of ingenuity receives far more praise than it deserves. The presence of such improvisation indicates that the leaders of a civilization are incompetent or malicious, causing the brightest minds of that civilization to exert effort toward solving problems which would not exist under better governance, thus keeping them from other accomplishments. At the high end, repairs and maintenance are performed properly, which keeps a civilization stable and healthy.

Intermission

So far, we have covered the history of immaterial technology as a concept, justified our novel terminology, devised a eight-level scale for describing interaction with technology, and started applying this scale to immaterial technology. In Part II, we will finish this application by discussing levels two and three, which include the use and misuse of immaterial technology as well as proper versus degenerate forms. We will conclude by discussing the use of immaterial technology for social engineering and determining how this is best done to promote eucivic good.

Footnotes:

  1. It is through this observation that Whig historiography appears as a corollary of technological determinism. If technology is a creator of potential, technology has continually advanced in time memorial, and reality is downstream from potential, then history will appear to be an inexorable march of progress.
  2. This is strong evidence either against time travel or in favor of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. Any artifact left in the past by time travelers should dramatically alter the course of history, as it would be figured out by the people of that time period and put into widespread use thereafter, thus creating a temporal paradox of who actually invented a particular technology. The only escape from paradox is for this chain of events to create a new timeline.

References:

  1. Leibeseder, Bettina (Jan. 2011). “A Critical Review on the Concept of Social Technology”. Socialines Technologijos/Social Technology: 7–24.
  2. Tamošiūnaitė, Rūta (2018). “Integrated social technologies for citizen participation in modern public governance decision making”, in conference proceedings of The 5th European Interdisciplinary Forum 2017. Bologna, Italy: EDITOGRAFICA s.r.l. p. 28.
  3. Henderson, C. R. (1895). “Review”. Journal of Political Economy, 3(2), 236–8.
  4. Henderson, C. R. (1901). “The Scope of Social Technology”. The American Journal of Sociology, 6(4), 465–86.
  5. Burgess, E. W. (1923). “The Interdependence of Sociology and Social Work”. Journal of Social Forces, 1(4), 366–70.
  6. Eliot, T. D. (1924). “The Social Worker’s Criticisms of Undergraduate Sociology”. Journal of Social Forces, 2(4), 506–12.
  7. Preobrazhensky, E. A. (1926). Novaya Ekonomika. Moscow. Translated by Pierce, Brian (1965); with an introduction by A. Nove, 1st ed. Oxford: Clarendon. p. 55.
  8. Popper, Karl (1945). The Open Society and Its Enemies. Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 158–9.
  9. “History: The Colt Legend”. Colt’s Manufacturing Company.
  10. 趙士禎 (Zhao Shi-zhen) (1598). 神器譜 (Artifact spectrum).
  11. Walters, Karly (2004). Law, “Terror”, and the Frame-Breaking Act. University of London.
  12. Kiernan, Ben (1997). The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-79. London: Yale University Press. p. 31–158; 251–310.
  13. Bergin, Sean (2008). The Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian Genocide. Rosen. p. 31
  14. Seng Kok Ung (2011). I Survived the Killing Fields: The True Life Story of a Cambodian Refugee. p. 22–6
  15. Niemand, Bastiaan (2018, Nov. 13). “Jugaad Ethics”. Social Matter. https://www.socialmatter.net/2018/11/13/jugaad-ethics/
  16. Polybius (146 BC). The Histories, Book VI.

The Economic Fallacies of Black Friday: 2018 Edition

Today, shoppers across America will participate in the largest shopping day of the year: Black Friday. The National Retail Federation is estimating that 164 million customers will be shopping between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday. This estimate is unchanged from 2017. The actual result from 2017 was 174 million between Thanksgiving and Monday. A similar adjustment to the predicted value for 2018 would mean 174 million actual shoppers.

The NRF estimates that total sales for the holiday season will be between $717.45 billion and $720.89 billion, up from $687.87 billion in 2017. This would be an annual increase of 4.3 to 4.8 percent. The estimate for 2016 was between $678.75 billion and $682 billion, suggesting that the total sales for 2018 may be closer to $727.09 billion. This year, the NRF estimates that retailers will hire between 585,000 and 650,000 seasonal employees, compared with the actual 582,500 they hired during the 2017 holiday season versus an estimate of 500,000 to 550,000. We may therefore expect that retailers will actually hire about 685,000 seasonal employees. On the surface, this may appear to be a marvelous celebration of free market capitalism. But let us look deeper through the lenses of the broken window fallacy and the idea of malinvestment.

To view holiday shopping as a boost to the economy ignores the fact that people could either be spending that money in other ways or saving it. In other words, such an approach is an example of the broken window fallacy because it focuses only on what is seen and ignores opportunity costs. If people would save their money rather than spending it on various holiday gifts, then this money would be invested in one thing or another. As Henry Hazlitt explains in Chapter 23 of Economics in One Lesson, saving is really just another form of spending, and one that has a greater tendency to allocate resources where they are most needed.

Per capita spending is predicted to be $1,007.24 in 2018, up from the 2017 estimate of $967.13. The above problems get even worse if people use credit cards to spend money that they do not currently have. With a current credit card interest rate of 17.58 percent and a minimum payment of 4.0 percent, a debt of $1,007.24 would take 5.75 years to pay off and would cost $1,468.05. This is $460.81 wasted on interest payments that could have been kept in one’s accounts or put toward a productive purpose. Multiply this by the 174 million shoppers predicted earlier, and the result is that as much as $80.18 billion could be spent on interest payments. In 2017, the credit card interest rate was 16.72 percent, and the average debt of $967.13 took 5.5 years to pay off with a total cost of $1,372.85.

When people purchase unwanted gifts and/or buy gifts with money they do not currently have, their choices encourage malinvestments. A malinvestment is an investment in a line of production that is mistaken in terms of the real demands of the economy, which leads to wasted capital and economic losses. The holiday shopping season contains a subset of shopping which creates systematic and widespread mistakes in investment and production. Although the effect is not as severe as what occurs during an Austrian business cycle bust and is both caused and resolved in fundamentally different ways, there is a noticeable hangover effect on the economy. A look at the average monthly returns on the Standard and Poor’s 500 shows that while the worst month for investments is September, the next three worst months for investing are February, May, and March. (April would likely be bad as well if not for income tax returns providing an artificial economic boost.) An economic downturn occurs in the historical average following the holiday season, but as this has become an expected annual occurrence, many analysts simply do not look for an explanation of these results, as they are perceived to be natural. Even so, this appears to be a small-scale business cycle that repeats annually.

With these arguments in mind, would we all be better off if we just canceled the holiday shopping season? It is an open question, but the Austrian School of economics suggests that we could have a better economy if the burst of economic activity in late November and December were spread throughout the year and people did not spend money they do not have on items they do not need.

Song Lyrics: Election Song

Verse 1:

(E7) Wake up in the morning
Long before first (E9) light
(E7) Smell the coffee (Bm7) brewing in the
(E7) same pot that you didn’t wash last (A) night
(A7)
(E7) Gonna be alright
(E)
(E7) Pull out of the driveway
Head down to the (E9) polls
(E7) Odds are better (Bm7) that you’ll die in
(E7) a car crash than change the way it (A) goes
(A7)
(E7) Oh, don’t you know?
(E)
(Bm7) Tweedle Dum or Tweedle Dee
(F#m7) whoever wins the system keeps (E) control
(E7) The status quo

Verse 2:

(E7) Stand there in a long line
Wrapped around the (E9) block
(E7) Brave the pouring (Bm7) rain and cold damp
(E7) air so you can say you cast your (A) lot
(A7)
(E7) Wish you forgot?
(E)
(E7) Get inside the polling place
Know just how to (E9) vote
(E7) Gotta do your (Bm7) civic duty
(E7) Mark the ballot for devils you (A) know
(A7)
(E7) Is it all for show?
(E)
(Bm7) After all its in the hands of
(F#m7) whoever is there to count the (E) votes
(E7) What a sick joke

Verse 3:

(E7) Go about your busy day
Gotta work your (E9) job
(E7) That “I voted” (Bm7) sticker is your
(E7) ticket out of lectures from the (A) mob
(A7)
(E7) Their minds are locked
(E) from propaganda slop
(E7) The hours finally pass
Time to go back (E9) home
(E7) Stuck in traffic (Bm7) listening to
(E7) the last ads play on the (A) radio
(A7)
(E7) Glad they’ll be gone
(E) for two years or so
(Bm7) But the next election season
(F#m7) promises another stupid (E) row
(E7) Hackneyed ebb and flow

Verse 4:

(E7) Supper’s done and now its time
To sit down and (E9) rest
(E7) Switch on the (Bm7) idiot box and
(E7) Watch the results come in too (A) fast
(A7)
(E7) Election’s done at last
(E) Glad its in the past
(E7) One seat stays with Team Red
Another flips for (E9) Blue
(E7) Counting votes like (Bm7) counting sheep and
(E7) sheep are those who vote to put them (A) through
(A7)
(E7) Tell me, is that you?
(E) Yeah, is that you?
(Bm7) Wake up the next morning to find
(F#m7) nothing’s getting better; what a (E) ruse
(E7) and you’ve been fooled

Verse 5:

(E7) No matter who you vote for
The system stays in (E9) place
(E7) Ever growing, (Bm7) ever reaching
(E7) ever looking for more things to (A) claim
(A7)
(E7) A monster without face
(E) Liberty erased
(E7) One hand in your wallet
Another ’round your (E9) neck
(E7) Threaten you (Bm7) with prison time
(E7) unless you obey and send that tax (A) check
(A7)
(E7) That’s truth direct
(E)
(Bm7) Starting wars, funding terror,
(F#m7) turning the whole world into a (E) mess
(E7) Its all grotesque

Verse 6:

(E7) Then you start a-thinking
Is this all there (E9) is?
(E7) Can’t we find a (Bm7) way to solve our
(E7) problems that works out better than (A) this?
(A7)
(E7) Or call it quits
(E) and take our own risks
(E7) But they won’t let us do that
They’ve too much at (E9) stake
(E7) Their vested interest (Bm7) is to stand in
(E7) our way until we cause them to (A) break
(A7)
(E7) Make our escape
(E) Freedom retake
(Bm7) But we’ll have to build and plan and
(F#m7) bide our time until they seal their (E) fate
(E7) with a mistake too great

Outro:
(Bm7) Yeah, we’ll have to build and plan and
(F#m7) bide our time until they seal their (E) fate
(E7) Await that day
Await that day
Await that day
(E)

A Holistic Approach to Ending Corporate Censorship

Over the past decade, the large technology companies of Silicon Valley have transitioned from a mindset of attempting to make government censorship impossible to a mindset of attempting to make government censorship unnecessary. People with views that oppose the progressive liberal narrative have increasingly found their posts removed and accounts suspended on the social media platforms created by these companies. Domain registrars, web hosting companies, and payment processors have joined in this effort to de-platform those who are not part of the progressive movement, such as conservatives, libertarians, reactionaries, and the alt-right, especially the latter two. At first, there were just a few relatively marginal people being removed from social media, having their crowdfunding campaigns taken down, and being chased off of web hosting. But these behaviors have become more common, as has the denial of service by payment processors.

There are several proposals for how to respond to these developments, and the debates concerning them highlight differences in political theory and strategy between the aforementioned groups under attack by the outer arms of the Cathedral. Let us consider each option in order to construct a holistic approach to freeing the Internet from censorious technology giants.

Policy Inaction and Reliance on Alt-Tech

The view articulated by mainstream libertarians and free-market conservatives is that the technology giants are success stories of capitalism, having brought about wondrous advances in commerce and communication. They tend to view these technology companies as private businesses whose owners should be able to set their terms of service as they see fit and choose with whom they will associate or not associate. Indeed, many view ostracism as a nearly universal positive, working to reward preferred behavior while punishing dispreferred behavior. If technology companies behave improperly, they believe that the market will punish them by elevating alternatives to prominence as customers flee to other providers. This leads them to favor inaction at the policy level while championing alt-tech as the solution.

This stance is best understood as inability to deal with the context of the situation, naivete by those who have yet to face the wrath of the establishment, or malice by those who are part of the establishment. The truth is that the dominant companies in social media, website hosting, domain registration, and payment processing have such large market shares that it is difficult for competitors to enter the market. Those who try face many hurdles in trying to start a site and remain online. The established companies can and do use their positions to engage in anti-competitive business practices, such as keeping competitors out of search results and application stores. This can keep competitors from gaining the brand recognition necessary to build the user bases they need in order to become successful platforms. This was less of a problem in the early days of social media when turnover of the most popular sites was higher, but the near-monopolies of the largest companies are no longer as vulnerable. In a free market, censorious behavior from the largest technology companies would be of little concern, but the market is not free because it has been effectively cornered.

Although ostracism on the basis of behavior is nothing new, the crowdsourcing power of the Internet has transformed it into a political weapon that can be used to ruin people unjustly. Moreover, it is capable of dividing an entire society along ideological lines. When reasoned discourse is shut down and unpopular viewpoints are suppressed by howling irrational cyber-mobs, those who are de-platformed are likely to have their internal victim narratives confirmed, radicalizing them further. This may even motivate extremists who would otherwise spew hateful rhetoric but take no further action to go ahead with plans to commit acts of terrorism. It also may serve as a precursor to a novel type of civil war, one which arises when the heated rhetoric that is naturally produced as a byproduct of democracy escalates into political violence and there is no peaceful outlet to reduce tensions before they consume the entire society.

It is clear that doing nothing is not a reasonable strategy, and that alt-tech is necessary but not sufficient, so let us consider our real options.

The Communications Decency Act

Recent commentary on this subject has focused on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, codified at United States Code, Title 47, Chapter 5, Subchapter II, Part I, Section 230. The stated intent of this law is laid out in Subsection (b):

(b) Policy
It is the policy of the United States—
(1) to promote the continued development of the Internet and other interactive computer services and other interactive media;
(2) to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet and other interactive computer services, unfettered by Federal or State regulation;
(3) to encourage the development of technologies which maximize user control over what information is received by individuals, families, and schools who use the Internet and other interactive computer services;
(4) to remove disincentives for the development and utilization of blocking and filtering technologies that empower parents to restrict their children’s access to objectionable or inappropriate online material; and
(5) to ensure vigorous enforcement of Federal criminal laws to deter and punish trafficking in obscenity, stalking, and harassment by means of computer.

The substance of the law at issue here is found in Subsection (c):

(c) Protection for “Good Samaritan” blocking and screening of offensive material
(1) Treatment of publisher or speaker: No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.
(2) Civil liability: No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of—
(A) any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or
(B) any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in (1).

This statute allows service providers on the Internet to restrict the actions of customers without being legally responsible for the actions they do not restrict. The Communications Decency Act was written partly in response to the Supreme Court case Stratton Oakmont, Inc. v. Prodigy Services Co. (1995), which suggested that service providers were publishers subject to responsibility if they assumed an editorial role. The original purpose of these provisions is revealed in Subsection (d):

(d) Obligations of interactive computer service: A provider of interactive computer service shall, at the time of entering an agreement with a customer for the provision of interactive computer service and in a manner deemed appropriate by the provider, notify such customer that parental control protections (such as computer hardware, software, or filtering services) are commercially available that may assist the customer in limiting access to material that is harmful to minors. Such notice shall identify, or provide the customer with access to information identifying, current providers of such protections.

As usual, laws intended to solve a particular problem, in this case protecting minors from viewing obscene materials that they are not mentally prepared to view, are employed later for other purposes far beyond their original intent. The technology giants of today use this statute in order to have their cake and eat it too; they censor as they see fit and suffer no liability for what they choose not to censor.

Section 230 has come under attack from both left-wing and right-wing activists. The former wish to remove liability protections to incentivize more zealous censorship of “hate speech”, while the latter wish to either remove the ability of interactive computer service providers to censor content and remove people or make it easier for victims of defamation to sue the platforms that host defamatory material. But a full repeal of Section 230 would allow for platforms to be legally responsible for all of the content they host. Whereas moderating the sheer volume of user-generated content that exists today would be impractical, many sites would stop hosting such content. Lawsuits from failed moderation would overload the courts, and content hosting would mostly move to the decentralized dark web.

There would have to be a replacement statute following a repeal in order to mitigate the extreme disruption to business as usual. This replacement should serve the purposes laid out in Subsections (b) and (d) of Section 230, which has not been done by Subsection (c), item (2). Any replacement for that provision should keep interactive computer service providers from removing otherwise legal content from their sites unless they wish to be responsible for everything that they allow to remain. This would make Internet censorship so impractical that it would almost never occur, as success would produce very little benefit while failure would result in being treated as a publisher of vast quantities of libel and slander. This would be in keeping with the general methodology of federal regulations; rather than prohibiting an activity outright, it instead makes the activity too difficult for any reasonable entity to perform. Other measures could be used to keep obscene materials away from minors and allow users to filter out content that they do not wish to view. These measures already exist, and are such obvious solutions that there is no need to require them by law.

Altering Section 230 should rein in social media censorship, but it would be of questionable efficacy against domain registrars and web hosting companies, and would be useless against payment processors. Therefore, let us consider other approaches.

The Public Utility Approach

In the view increasingly expressed by conservatives and alt-rightists, the Internet is an essential aspect of life in the 21st century, and the technology companies that deny people access to the most popular social media platforms, domain hosting services, and payment processors are curtailing both the civil liberties and economic opportunities of those people. The largest technology companies are effective monopolies, in that these firms are the only sellers of products and services that have no close substitutes. In response, they call for the state to regulate these companies as public utilities, much as they do to providers of electricity, water, and natural gas. This line of thinking also leads to support among these people for net neutrality regulations. Some argue that government regulation is even more necessary in this case, as the network effects and first-mover advantages of the largest technology firms mean that a competitor cannot provide the same quality of service even if there were no significant barriers to entry into the business of creating social media platforms, search engines, and payment processors, which there are.

Treating social media and web hosting as public utilities is likely to cause more problems than it solves. When governments began regulating other industries, innovation in those industries slowed. The companies which were nearly monopolistic either remained so or became real monopolies, as competition became even more difficult. Freezing current troublesome companies in place as major players rather than allowing upstarts to displace them is an undesirable outcome. This is exacerbated by the fact that public utility regulations are just as vulnerable to regulatory capture as any other regulations. Furthermore, the cost of regulation is likely to be high, and the regulated businesses will pass this cost onto their customers. However, given the dominant market shares of domain registrars and payment processors, as well as the barriers to entry for creating new ones, those businesses may need to be treated as public utilities until meaningful competition can emerge.

The Anti-Trust Approach

There was obvious collusion between the legacy establishment media, dominant social media platforms, payment processors, domain registrars, and web hosting companies in the effort to silence Alex Jones in August 2018 and in the effort to shut down Gab in October 2018. There is a strong case to be made that such conduct runs afoul of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Passed in 1890 and amended to include and exclude various activities since, the Act is codified at United States Code, Title 15, Chapter 1, and reads:

“Section 1: Every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, is declared to be illegal. Every person who shall make any contract or engage in any combination or conspiracy hereby declared to be illegal shall be deemed guilty of a felony, and, on conviction thereof, shall be punished by fine not exceeding $100,000,000 if a corporation, or, if any other person, $1,000,000, or by imprisonment not exceeding 10 years, or by both said punishments, in the discretion of the court.

Section 2: Every person who shall monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, or combine or conspire with any other person or persons, to monopolize any part of the trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, shall be deemed guilty of a felony, and, on conviction thereof, shall be punished by fine not exceeding $100,000,000 if a corporation, or, if any other person, $1,000,000, or by imprisonment not exceeding 10 years, or by both said punishments, in the discretion of the court.”

Section 3 extends these provisions to the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. Much of the meaning and application of anti-trust law has been fleshed out judicially rather than legislatively. This has resulted in two major types of Sherman Act cases: “per se” cases and “rule of reason” cases. In a per se case, market actors strictly violate Section 1. In these cases, conduct has a “pernicious effect on competition” or “lack[s]…any redeeming virtue”[1] and “would always or almost always tend to restrict competition and decrease output.”[2] Such cases do not contemplate intent or effect, and simply require proving that the conduct occurred.[2] A rule of reason case considers intent, motive, and effect to attempt a prediction of whether the conduct in question promotes or suppresses competition. This is more difficult to prove, but should not be necessary in the most prominent cases of corporate censorship.

One example of prohibited conduct is “concerted refusals to deal”.[3,4] The efforts to de-platform Alex Jones and shut down Gab offer two obvious examples of concerted refusals to deal, and should easily clear even the heightened standard of Twombly[5] for bringing a case that cannot be summarily dismissed. As for Section 2 violations, the courts have distinguished innocent monopoly from coercive monopoly, which is the difference between a monopoly earned by providing goods and services so well that no one cares to compete and a monopoly maintained by using one’s dominant position to suppress competition. Though the technology giants mostly were innocent monopolies in the beginning, few have remained so, as the Jones and Gab incidents demonstrate. More generally, suppressing a company’s search results and keeping a company out of application stores is tantamount to anti-competitive business practice that would violate Section 2.

Champions of the free market have decried anti-trust law as a cause of market inefficiency[6] and as a violation of property rights. Ayn Rand described such laws as “the penalizing of ability for being ability, the penalizing of success for being success, and the sacrifice of productive genius to the demands of envious mediocrity.”[7] Concern about market inefficiency is important, but should not overrule non-economic moral and philosophical values. While ability and success can be penalized by anti-trust action if the targets are innocent monopolies rather than coercive ones, this does not have to be the case, and is not the case here.

A more substantive criticism is to fault anti-trust laws for solving problems caused by corporate law by additional legislation rather than by repealing bad laws. Another valid point is that anti-trust will be insufficient even if it is necessary, as trust-busting will solve nothing if Facebook, Google, Twitter, PayPal, et al. are broken into a hundred pieces, each of which behave exactly as the former did. More fundamental changes are thus needed, which brings us to the final option we will consider.

The Anti-Corporate Approach

We come now to the strongest approach, which is championed uniquely by libertarian reactionary thought. The nature of corporations leads to a clear rationale for restricting their behavior in such a manner as to end corporate censorship. A corporation is a legal fiction created by the state to shield business owners from full financial liability and ease the enforcement of laws upon those businesses. Without registering or chartering a corporation under the laws of a state, it is impossible to establish such entities as we know them. For the four millennia that business structures similar to corporations have existed, they have always been intertwined with state power. Although one could negotiate contracts with other legal persons to make an unincorporated business function similarly to a corporation, this would not be identical to a state-recognized corporation in terms of its interaction with the state or its liabilities for negative externalities.

Two results directly follow from this. First, registering a corporation amounts to participation in a government program. Second, state-recognized corporations are not truly private businesses, but public-private partnerships in which the state provides limited liability through its monopoly on courts and the private business fulfills its purpose, whatever it may be.

In order to participate in a government program, a person or other entity is supposed to be in compliance with government laws. As all of the censorious technology giants are incorporated in the United States, they should obey American law. The Constitution is the supreme legal document with which a state-recognized corporation should be in compliance for this purpose. (More generally, if a corporation is chartered or registered under the laws of a particular state and that state has a constitution demarcating the limits of its claimed powers, then no such corporation should exceed those limits, for no entity should delegate powers to others that it does not have itself.) The Constitution contains a number of provisions which are supposed to limit the conduct of government, including provisions to protect freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, security against unreasonable search and seizure, and due process, among other rights. Because state-recognized corporations are public-private partnerships, they should be held to the same limitations on their conduct. Because corporations exist on the backs of taxpayers who are extorted to fund the government that allows them to incorporate, any funding grants or bailouts they receive, and any public works they perform, to let taxpayers be denied service by these entities compounds the injustice of taxation and violates the legal doctrine of estoppel.

The technology giants should face a choice of ceasing all censorship, forfeiting their corporate charters or registrations, or leaving the United States. In other words, they must choose between opening the marketplace of ideas, becoming truly private companies, or getting out of the way, any of which would be an improvement in the long term. Even the threat of this proposal would have the technology giants rushing to behave better, and could accomplish the same results as public utility regulation with far less threat to innovation.

Conclusion

The effort to stop corporate censorship is the most important social issue of our time because failure in this effort will greatly hinder the ability to discuss any other issue, at least from any position that deviates sufficiently from progressive liberalism. Silicon Valley has both a greater and a more insidious power to suppress dissident speech than the Cheka or Gestapo ever did. As Henry Olson explains,

“While a force like the Cheka was obviously able to inflict much more pain on individual people than Google can, its obvious brutality could not help but stir up popular resentment; thus, the common refrain that by the fall of the Berlin Wall the only people still believing in communism were American university professors. Therefore, the fact that modern tech companies have given up primitive methods of control for more sophisticated ones is an evolutionary improvement in managerial totalitarianism, not a weakness. The goal of the gulags was rarely to hurt individual people; it was to make the cost of opposing the system prohibitive to others. If Google, Twitter, PayPal, or any other company can silence dissent just by changing search algorithms or banning dissidents from using a service, then it has achieved in the same results in a less intrusive way. And because their methods are less obviously evil, they are also less likely to engender popular disillusionment or revolt.”

We have considered five methods for countering censorious technology giants: market competition by alt-tech companies, changing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, treating interactive computer service providers as public utilities, breaking up technology giants with anti-trust laws, and making incorporation contingent upon ending censorship. Only the latter method could possibly work without assistance from the others, as alt-tech could be suppressed by a concerted effort, the CDA does not deal with payment processors, public utility regulation would stifle innovation while freezing the currently dominant companies in place, and anti-trust risks replacing a few large bad actors with many small bad actors. Given the importance of this issue, a holistic approach of all of the above (and perhaps more) is essential for preventing the curtailment of discourse by an elite few, and thus preserving peace and order.

References:

  1. Northern Pacific Railway v. United States, (1958).
  2. Broadcast Music, Inc. v. CBS (1979).
  3. FTC v. Superior Court Trial Lawyers Association (1990).
  4. NW Wholesale Stationers, Inc. v. Pacific Stationery & Printing Co. (1985).
  5. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly (2007).
  6. Greenspan, Alan (1962). Antitrust. Nathaniel Branden Institute, New York.
  7. Rand, Ayn (1967). Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Ch. 3. New American Library. Signet.