Tag: modern history


Democracy and Hacking


The New York Times has published a long analysis of the effects of the hacking of Democratic Party organisations and operatives in the 2016 election campaign.

The article is obviously trying to appear a balanced view, eschewing the “OMG we are at war with Russia” hyperbole and questioning the value of different pieces of evidence. It does slip here and there, for instance jumping from the involvement of “a team linked to the Russian government” (for which there is considerable evidence) to “directed from the Kremlin” without justification.

The evidence that the hackers who penetrated the DNC systems and John Podesta’s email account are linked to the Russian Government is that the same tools were used as have been used in other pro-Russian actions in the past.

*Update 4th Jan 2017: that is a bit vague: infosec regular @pwnallthethings goes into very clear detail in a twitter thread)

One important consideration is the sort of people who do this kind of thing. Being able to hack systems requires some talent, but not any weird Hollywood-esque genius. It also takes a lot of experience, which goes out of date quite quickly. Mostly, the people who have the talent and experience are the people who have done it for fun.

Those people are difficult to recruit into military or intelligence organisations. They tend not to get on well with concepts such as wearing uniforms, turning up on time, or passing drug tests.

It is possible in theory to bypass the enthusiasts and have more professional people learn the techniques. One problem is that becoming skilled requires practice, and that generally means practice on innocent victims. More significantly, the first step in any action is to work through cut-out computers to avoid being traced, and those cut-outs are also hacked computers belonging to random victims. That’s the way casual hackers, spammers and other computer criminals work, and espionage hackers have to use the same techniques. They have to be doing it all the time, to keep a base of operations, and to keep their techniques up to date.

For all these reasons, it makes much more sense for state agencies to stay arms-length from the actual hackers. The agencies will know about the hackers, maybe fund them indirectly, cover for them, and make suggestions, but there won’t be any official chain of command.

So the hackers who got the data from the DNC were probably somewhat associated with the Russian Government (though a comprehensive multi-year deception by another organisation deliberately appearing to be Russian is not completely out of the question).

They may have had explicit (albeit off-the-record) instructions, but that’s not necessary. As the New York Times itself observed, Russia has generally been very alarmed by Hillary Clinton for years. The group would have known to oppose her candidacy without being told.

“It was conventional wisdom… that Mrs. Clinton considered her husband’s efforts to reform Russia in the 1990s an unfinished project, and that she would seek to finish it by encouraging grass-roots efforts that would culminate with regime change.”

Dealing with the product is another matter. It might well have gone to a Russian intelligence agency, either under an agreement with the hackers or ad-hoc from a “concerned citizen”: you would assume they would want to see anything and everything of this kind that they could get. While hacking is best treated as deniable criminal activity, it would be much more valuable to agencies to have close control over the timing and content of releases of data.

So I actually agree with the legacy media that the extraction and publication of Democratic emails was probably a Russian intelligence operation. There is a significant possibility it was not, but was done by some Russians independent of government, and a remote possibility it was someone completely unrelated who has a practice of deliberately leaving false clues implicating Russia.

I’ve often said that the real power of the media is not the events that they report but the context to the events that they imply. Governments spying on each other is completely normal. Governments spying on foreign political movements is completely normal. Governments attempting to influence foreign elections by leaking intelligence is completely normal. Points to Nydwracu for finding this by William Safire:

“The shrewd Khrushchev came away from his personal duel of words with Nixon persuaded that the advocate of capitalism was not just tough-minded but strong-willed; he later said that he did all he could to bring about Nixon’s defeat in his 1960 presidential campaign.”

The major restraint on interference in foreign elections is generally the danger that if the candidate you back loses then you’ve substantially damaged your own relations with the winner. The really newsworthy aspect of all this is that the Russians had such a negative view of Clinton that they thought this wouldn’t make things any worse. It’s been reported that the Duma broke into applause when the election result was announced.

The other thing that isn’t normal is a complete public dump of an organisation’s emails. That’s not normal because it’s a new possibility, one that people generally haven’t begun to get their heads around. I was immediately struck by the immense power of such an attack the first time I saw it, in early 2011. No organisation can survive it: this is an outstanding item that has to be solved. I wouldn’t rule out a new recommended practice to destroy all email after a number of weeks, forcing conversation histories to be boiled down to more sterile and formal documents that are far less potentially damaging if leaked.

It is just about possible for an organisation to be able to adequately secure their corporate data, but that’s both a technical problem and a management problem. However, the first impression you get is of the DNC is one of amateurism. That of course is not a surprise. As I’ve observed before, if you consider political parties to be an important part of the system of government, their lack of funding and resources is amazing, even if American politics is better-funded than British. That the DNC were told they had been hacked and didn’t do anything about it is still shocking. Since 2011, this is something that any organisation sensitive to image should be living in fear of.

This is basically evidence-free speculation, but it seems possible that the Democratic side is deficient in actual organisation builders: the kind of person who will set up systems, make rules, and get a team of people to work together. A combination of fixation on principles rather than practical action, and on diversity and “representativeness” over extraordinary competence meant that the campaign didn’t have the equivalent of a Jared Kushner to move in, set up an effective organisation and get it working.

Or possibly the problem is more one of history: the DNC is not a political campaign set up to achieve a task, but a permanent bureaucracy bogged down by inferior personnel and a history of institutional compromises.  Organisations become inefficient naturally.

Possibly Trump in contrast benefited from his estrangement from the Republican party establishment, since it meant he did not have legacy organisations to leak his secrets and undermine his campaign’s efficiency. He had a Manhattan Project, not an ITER.

The task of building–or rebuilding–an organisation is one that few people are suited to. Slotting into an existing structure is very much easier. Clinton’s supporters particularly are liable to have the attitude that a job is something you are given, rather than something you make. Kushner and Brad Parscale seem to stand out as people who have the capability of making a path rather than following one. As an aside, Obama seems to have had such people also, but Clinton may have lacked them. Peter Thiel described Kushner as “the Chief Operating Officer” of Trump’s campaign. Maybe the real estate business that Trump and Kushner are in, which consists more of separate from-scratch projects than most other businesses, orients them particularly to that style.


Modelling Failures


Nothing really new here, but pulling a few things together.

Start with Joseph K’s observation:

This is a good point, and I added that the failure of financial risk models in 2008 was essentially the same thing.

The base problem is overconfidence. “People do not have enough epistemic humility”, as Ben Dixon put it.

The idea in all these fields is that you want to make some estimate about the future of some system. You make a mathematical model of the system, relating the visible outputs to internal variables. You also include a random variable in the model.

You then compare the outputs of your model to the visible outputs of the system being modelled, and modify the parameters until they match as closely as possible. They don’t match exactly, but you make the effects of your random variable just big enough that your model could plausibly produce the outputs you have seen.

If that means your random variable basically dominates, then your model is no good and you need a better one. But if the random element is fairly small, you’re good to go.

In polling, your visible effects are how people answer polling questions and how they vote. In social science, it’s how subjects behave in experiments, or how they answer questions, or how they do things that come out in published statistics. In finance, it’s the prices at which people trade various instruments.

The next step is where it all goes wrong. In the next step, you assume that your model—including its random variable to account for the unmeasured or unpredictable—is exactly correct, and make predictions about what the future outputs of the system will be. Because of the random variable, your predictions aren’t certain; they have a range and a probability. You say, “Hillary Clinton has a 87% chance of winning the election”. You say “Reading these passages changes a person’s attitude to something-or-other in this direction 62% of the time, with a probability of 4.6% that the effect could have been caused randomly”. You say, “The total value of the assets held by the firm will not decrease by more than 27.6 million dollars in a day, with a probability of 99%”.

The use of probabilities suggests to an outsider that you have epistemic humility–you are aware of your own fallibility and are taking account of the possibility of having gone wrong. But that is not the case. The probabilities you quote are calculated on the basis that you have done everything perfectly, that you model is completely right, and that nothing has changed in between the production of the data you used to build the model and the events that you are attempting to predict. The unpredictability that you account for is that which is caused by the incompleteness of your model—which is necessarily a simplification of the real system—not on the possibility that what your model is doing is actually wrong.

In the case of the polling, what that means is that the margin of error quoted with the poll is based on the assumptions that the people polled answered honestly; that they belong to the demographic groups that the pollsters thought they belonged to, that the proportion of demographic groups in the electorate are what the pollsters thought they were. The margin of error is based on the random variables in the model: the fact that the random selection of people polled might be atypical of the list they were taken from, possibly, if the model is sophisticated enough, that the turnout of different demographics might vary from what is predicted (but where does the data come from to model that?)

In the social sciences, the assumptions are that the subjects are responding to the stimuli you are describing, and not to something else. Also that people will behave the same outside the laboratory as they do inside. The stated probabilities and uncertainties again are not reflecting any doubt as to those assumptions: only to the modelled randomness of sampling and measurement.

On the risk modelling used by banks, I can be more detailed, because I actually did it. It is assumed that the future price changes of an instrument follow the same probability distributions as in the past. Very often, because the instruments do not have a sufficient historical record, a proxy is used; one which is assumed to be similar. Sometimes instead of a historical record or a proxy there is just a model, a normal distribution plus a correlation with the overall market, or a sector of it. Again, lots of uncertainty in the predictions, but none of it due to the possibility of having the wrong proxy, or of there being something new about the future which didn’t apply to the past.

Science didn’t always work this way. The way you do science is that you propose the theory, then it is tested against observations over a period of time. That’s absolutely necessary: the model, even with the uncertainty embedded within it, is a simplification of reality, and the only justification for assuming that the net effects of the omitted complexities are within error bounds is that that is seen to happen.

If the theory is about the emission spectra of stars, or the rate of a chemical reaction, then once the theory is done it can be continually tested for a long period. In social sciences or banking, nobody is paying attention for long enough, and the relevant environment is changing too much over a timescale of years for evidence that a theory is sound to build up. It’s fair enough: the social scientists, pollsters and risk managers are doing the best they can. The problem is not what they are doing, it is the excessive confidence given to their results. I was going to write “their excessive confidence”, but that probably isn’t right: they know all this. Many of them (there are exceptions) know perfectly well that a polling error margin, or a p-value, or a VaR are not truly what the definitions say, but only the closest that they can get. It is everyone who takes the numbers at face value that is making the mistake. However, none of these analysts, of whichever flavour, are in a position to emphasise the discrepancy. They always have a target to aim for.

For a scientist, they have to get a result with a p-value to publish a paper. That is their job: if they do it, they have succeeded, otherwise, they have not. A risk manager, similarly, has a straightforward day-to-day job of persuading the regulator that the bank is not taking too much risk. I don’t know the ins and outs of polling, but there is always pressure. In fact Nate Silver seems to have done exactly what I suggest: his pre-election announcement seems to be been along the lines “Model says Clinton 85%, but the model isn’t reliable, I’m going to call it 65%”. And he got a lot of shit for it.

Things go really bad when there is a feedback loop from the result of the modelling to the system itself. If you give a trader a VaR budget, he’ll look to take risks that don’t show in the VaR. If you campaign so as to maximise your polling position, you’ll win the support of the people who don’t bother to vote, or you’ll put people off saying they’ll vote for the other guy without actually stopping them voting for the other guy. Nasty.

Going into the election, I’m not going to say I predicted the result. But I didn’t fall for the polls. Either there was going to be a big differential turnout between Trump supporters and Clinton supporters, or there wasn’t. Either there were a lot of shy Trump supporters, or there weren’t. I thought there was a pretty good chance of both, but no amount of Data was going to tell me. Sometimes you just don’t know.

That’s actually an argument for not “correcting” the polls. At least if there is a model—polling model, VaR model, whatever—you can take the output and then think about it. If the thinking has already been done, and corrections already applied, that takes the option away from you. I didn’t know to what extent the polls had already be corrected for the unquantifiables that could make them wrong. The question wasn’t so much “are there shy Trump voters?” as “are there more shy Trump voters than some polling organisation guessed there are?”

Of course, every word of all this applies just the same to that old obsession of this blog, climate. The models have not been proved; they’ve mostly been produced honestly, but there’s a target, and there are way bigger uncertainties than those which are included in the models. But the reason I don’t blog about climate any more is that it’s over. The Global Warming Scare was fundamentally a social phenomenon, and it has gone. Nobody other than a few activists and scientists takes it seriously any more, and mass concern was an essential part of the cycle. There isn’t going to be a backlash or a correction; there won’t be papers demolishing the old theories and getting vast publicity. Rather, the whole subject will just continue to fade away. If Trump cuts the funding, as seems likely, it will fade away a bit quicker. Lip service will occasionally be paid, and summits will continue to be held, but less action will result from them. The actual exposure of the failure of science won’t happen until the people who would have been most embarrassed by it are dead. That’s how these things go.


President Trump


I have long ago observed that, whatever its effect on government, democracy has great entertainment value. We are certainly being entertained by the last couple of days, and that looks like going on for a while.

From one point of view, the election is a setback for neoreaction. The overreach of progressivism, particularly in immigration, was in danger of toppling the entire system, and that threat is reduced if Trump can restrain the demographic replacement of whites.

On the other hand, truth always has value, and the election result has been an eye-opener all round. White American proles have voted as a block and won. The worst of the millennial snowflakes have learned for the first time that their side isn’t always bound to win elections, and have noticed many flaws of the democratic process that possibly weren’t as visible to them when they were winning. Peter Thiel’s claims that democracy is incompatible with freedom will look a bit less like grumblings of a bad loser once Thiel is in the cabinet. Secession is being talked about, the New York Times has published an opinion column calling for Monarchy. One might hope that Lee Kuan Yew’s observations on the nature of democracy in multi-racial states might get some currency over the next few months or years.

So, yes, President Trump may save the system for another two or three decades (first by softening its self-destructive activities, and later by being blamed for every problem that remains). But Anomaly UK is neutral on accelerationism; if the system is going to fail, there is insufficient evidence to say whether it is better it fail sooner or later. If later, it can do more damage to the people before it fails, but on the other hand, maybe we will be better prepared to guide the transition to responsible effective government.

We will soon be reminded that we don’t have responsible effective government. Enjoyable as fantasies of “God Emperor Trump” have been, of course the man is just an ordinary centre-left pragmatist, and beyond immigration policy and foreign policy becoming a bit more sane, there is no reason to expect any significant change at all. The fact that some people were surprised by the conciliatory tone of his victory speech is only evidence that they were believing their own propaganda. He is not of the Alt-Right, and the intelligent of the Alt-Right never imagined that he was.

For the Alt-Right, if he merely holds back the positive attacks on white culture, he will have done what they elected him to do. Progressives can argue that there can be no such thing as anti-white racism, and that whites cannot be allowed the same freedoms as minority groups since their historical privilege will thereby be sustained. But even if one accepts that argument, it doesn’t mean that those who reject it are White Nationalists. Blurring the two concepts might make for useful propaganda, but it will not help to understand what is happening.

My assessment of what is happening is the same as it was in March: I expect real significant change in US immigration policy, and pretty much no other changes at all. I expect that Trump will be allowed to make those changes. It is an indication of the way that progressive US opinion dominates world media that people in, say, Britain, are shocked by the “far-right” Americans electing a president who wants to make America’s immigration law more like Britain’s–all while a large majority in Britain want to make Britain’s immigration law tougher than it is.

The fact that US and world markets are up is a clue that much of the horror expressed at Trump’s candidacy was for show, at least among those with real influence.

The polls were way off again. The problem with polling is that it is impossible. You simply can’t measure how people are going to vote. The proxies that are used–who people say they support, what they say they are going to do–don’t carry enough information, and no amount of analysis will supply the lacking information. The polling analysis output is based on assumptions about the difference between what they say and what they will do–the largest variable being whether they will actually go and vote at all. (So while this analyst did a better job and got this one right, the fundamental problems remain)

In a very homogeneous society, polling may be easier, because there’s less correlation between what candidate a person supports and how they behave. But the more voting is driven by demographics, the less likely the errors are to cancel out.

If arbitrary assumptions have to be made, then the biases of the analysts come into play. But that doesn’t mean the polls were wrong because they were biased–it just means they were wrong because they weren’t biased right.

On to the election itself, obviously the vital factor in the Republican victory was race. Hillary lost because she’s white. Trump got pretty much the same votes Romney did; Hillary got the white votes that Obama did in 2012, but she didn’t get the black votes because she isn’t black, so she lost.

So what of the much-talked-of emergence of white identity politics? The thing is, that really happened, but it happened in 2012 and before. It was nothing to do with Trump. The Republican party has been the party of the white working class for decades. Obama took a lot of those votes in 2008, on his image as a radical and a uniter, but that was exceptional, and he didn’t keep them in 2012.

The exit polls show Trump “doing better” among black people than Romney or McCain, but that probably doesn’t mean they like him more: it’s an artifact of the lower turnout. The republican minority of black voters voted in 2016 mostly as before, but the crowds who came out to vote for their man in 2008 and 2012 stayed home, so the percentage of black voters voting Republican went up.

The big increase in Trump’s support over Romney from Hispanics is probably not explainable the same way. A pet theory (unsupported by evidence) is that they’ve been watching Trump on TV for years and years and they like him.

The lesson of all this is that, since 2000, the Democratic party cannot win a presidential election with a white candidate. There’s a reason they’re already talking about running Michelle Obama. They’ve lost the white working class, and the only way to beat those votes is by getting black voters out to vote for a black candidate. While we’re talking about precedents, note that the last time a Democrat won a presidential election without either being the incumbent or running from outside the party establishment was 1960.

Update: taking Nate Silver’s point about the closeness of the result, my statements about what’s impossible are probably overconfident: Hillary might have squeaked a win without the Obama black vote bonus, maybe if her FBI troubles had been less. Nevertheless, I think if the Democrats ever nominate a white candidate again, they’ll be leaving votes on the table unnecessarily.


Going for the Throat

8th August 2016

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To set the scene, this is what I think normal politics looks like:

There is a kind of dynamic equilibrium of politics under the Modern Structure. The Cathedral moves left at a controlled pace. It drags the political establishment behind it. The parties and the media drag the backward mass of the people behind them.

To elaborate on that, I believe the pace has been controlled. There has always been a niche for someone to be the most radical, and that is the driving force behind the leftward movement, but there are also a whole bunch of sensible people with power to hold on to, who want to keep the system functioning roughly as well as it is, and who want to avoid triggering outright rebellion from the “backward masses”. The mainstream at any given time is a compromise between maintaining the status quo and claiming the status benefits emitted by the leftward spiral.

This dynamic equilibrium has been in place at least since the late 19th Century. I think it’s fair to say it was interrupted, in a small and narrow way, by the Reagan-era reorienting of economic policy. I wrote about that.

When I wrote the top piece about the dynamic equilibrium, in 2013, I thought the same economic-policy readjustment was happening again. I continued:

The last 15 years, under the Bush and Obama administrations, have seen an increase in the rate of expansion of the economic activity of the Federal Government beyond the previous rate. We can think of the old rate of leftward drift as the equilibrium rate, though of course that’s oversimplifying a complex situation.
That departure from the equilibrium rate of advance produced the Tea Party, by damaging the illusion that flyover country could oppose what was happening simply by supporting the Republican side of the political class.

However, the establishment was able to see off the Tea Party. What appears to be on the cards today, with the Trump movement, is a readjustment on a wider, or at least different, front; the question of the status of white culture and in particular of mass immigration.

This was very unexpected–I saw no hint of it in 2013 when the Tea Party was the focus of right-wing dissent. The apparent explanation for it was the lack of compromise on the cultural side from the left in politics and in institutions. The left traditionally can be patient; if it hits resistance it can sit and wait for its dominance over education and culture to wear that resistance away. That has always worked in the past. But for the last three years there has been no compromise: the cultural demands of the leftist status spiral have been driven through regardless of opposition, even on almost purely symbolic questions like transgender bathrooms or Syrian refugees where there was no practical reason not to show the usual patience and achieve the usual steady progress.

This is the question I asked, then, on Twitter in July 2016:

The cause of Trump, as @FreeNortherner said, is that they boiled the frog too quickly. But what is the cause of that loss of restraint?
Candidates are: social media echo chamber, Republican party weakness, purging of right from old institutions.
Or, I suppose, just random shit happens sometimes. But while possible it’s worth considering structural causes.

I will expand on the three suggestions I made:
By the echo chamber I mean the widely discussed theory that left and right have been socially separating from each other, to the degree that they simply don’t see the same world any more. The mainstream left became oblivious to the scale and intensity of opposition to what they were doing, because they literally didn’t know anyone who thought that way, didn’t read what those people were reading or even take them seriously.

The Republican Party ran very (electorally) weak presidential candidates for two elections running; we saw a very similar extended run in Britain of the Conservative Party being weak, divided, and not having politically effective candidates, during the Blair years. If elections aren’t close, the government naturally feels it can get away with more.

The purging of institutions is a kind of echo of what I wrote about in What happened in the Sixties. If what happened in the sixties was that the left had achieved such dominance in civil service, education and media that they could win every battle, in this decade the dominance reached the stage where they could not only defeat any opposition in those arenas, but they could punish any open dissent to their position. Before the Sixties you could take the right-wing line on a matter, and you might win or might lose. From the Sixties, you would lose. From this decade, you would lose and be fired.

I put forward those three hypotheses, for further evaluation and testing. I still think they’re pretty good. The point is that something must have changed. When I referred back to the question yesterday, there were a lot of suggestions on Twitter along the lines “Leftists are bad”. Well, they are, but that doesn’t explain why after a hundred years of deliberately not triggering a powerful right-wing backlash, they suddenly did it now.

However, yesterday I came across the Slate article by John Dickerson. “Go for the Throat!
Note the article is from January 2013; the occasion being Obama’s second Inaugural Address. So it was published before my October 2013 “Shutdown” piece where I saw the right-wing reaction to the establishment being on the narrow size-of-government issue.

In the article, John Dickerson simply proposes what has since happened as an electoral strategy. By refusing to compromise in any way with right-wing opposition, Obama could force Republican politicians to choose between either accepting utter defeat, and therefore losing all respect with conservatives, or else turning against their own defeated moderates, and allowing themselves to be painted as intransigent extremists. Some would go each way, and the result would be a split and damaged Republican party.

I dropped a few quotes on Twitter, but there’s no sense reading all this and not reading that article. It’s ridiculous to read that article and then ask, “Why did Donald Trump happen?” The whole point of the strategy Dickerson describes is to make something like Trump happen.

There are, however two questions to ask. The first is, “didn’t you consider that in triggering the production of ‘overreaction and charismatic dissenters’ from the GOP, you might get something powerful enough to win, or at least to reshape the political scene to your disadvantage?” The second is “Why is this a good idea in 2013, and not in, say, 1997? What is different?”

I’m interested in any answers to those questions, but first of all I’m interested in John Dickerson‘s answers. I’ve asked him on Twitter, but as yet not received a reply (to be fair, it’s early Monday morning in the US).


More Prediction


Kicking some ideas around as to what the future of US politics looks like, filling in more detail of my previous prediction

The justification for doing this is to test my understanding, not to drive any kind of short-term action

Note I’m not American, so while I know quite a lot, there’s a lot I don’t know, and I don’t know what a lot of it is. (Unknown unknowns).

I’m not predicting the election result. Lets take the possibilities

Let’s say Hillary wins.


Prediction 1. Trump isn’t going anywhere. He’s gone from well-known figure to one of the most famous men in the world, and he isn’t going to mind that at all. He is going to be prominent on US media for the foreseeable future. The media might want to keep him off, but they don’t have that kind of veto power–he could literally set up his own TV station and make money off it. More likely someone will give him a platform. He’s going to be on the news every week for the next decade.


Prediction 2. Hillary is going to be very unpopular. She’s a hopeless politician and isn’t going to be able to evade blame like Obama did. She cannot be reelected in 2020.


Non-Prediction 3. Can the Democrats replace her in 2020 primaries? I understand that generally doesn’t happen with incumbents. Pressure to not stand due to ill-health or something is possible

Non-Prediction 4. Can Trump run again in 2020? Nixon lost & was nominated again, right? Trump on a “I fucking told you, you fucking fools” platform could be in with a good chance. OTOH, the party will blame him for losing, and has a good chance to make that stick over the next 4 years. Also, they will be better-prepared with the machinery to keep him out, having been caught out this time.


Prediction 5. The Republican mainstream will loudly reject Trumpism and all his works and all his empty promises. Maybe for as long as six months. Then they will gradually begin to compete for his supporters. By 2019, border enforcement, some restriction on Islam, and much more hostility to free trade will be much more common in talking points. And of course that is on top of the fact that Ted Cruz is now symbolic of the moderate Republican mainstream, which would be shocking to anyone who had been in a coma since 2014.


Prediction 6. The real world has little to do with all this. There will not be a major collapse in the next 5 years. Details will change, but the big picture will be recognisable. That’s not because the current situation can go on forever, but because forever is a long time, and collapses are rare. Hillary’s policies will look bad, because she’s such an incompetent politician, but things won’t get worse noticeably quicker than they have been doing.

Prediction 7. The president elected in 2020 will be elected on a moderate immigration-restrictionist platform, and will act on it with limited cooperation from the establishment, having some marginal effect but not a revolutionary realignment of politics.

And if Trump wins…?

Prediction 8. President Trump will not be revolutionary. He will not take communists for helicopter rides, gas the Jews, appoint @Nero as press secretary, or pull out of NATO or the UN.

Prediction 9. He will attempt to make significant restrictions on legal immigration by Muslims and illegal immigration across the Mexico border. He will need to fight against the permanent government to do this. The character of that fight is the big open question.


Prediction 10. President Trump will win over the Republican Party. There will be many holdouts but as president he will have enough new allies to defeat them. There may for a time be a “Trump Party” but over time the Anti-Trumpers will be marginalised.


A Prediction


I wrote a post in 2014 that dealt with the idea that “Cthulhu always swims left”. This catchphrase of Moldbug’s has become commonplace in neoreactionary circles, and has even spread beyond. But it has troubled me that it doesn’t seem to be entirely true.

The key point is that nobody in the system has the aim of destroying society. That is an incidental byproduct of the competition for power. When a particular leftist trend gets to the stage where the destruction of the governing institutions becomes imminent,  some conservative will actually be allowed to stop it. After all, the individuals in the permanent establishment are choosing the holy policy in order to retain their power; if it comes to a choice between accepting a less holy policy or seeing the institution in which their power resides fall apart, there is less to lose by compromising on purity.

But a compromise made in the face of imminent catastrophe is still made, and can’t be immediately reversed once the threat has passed. It sticks, not for ever but for a generation at least. In the previous article I identified the state of nationalised, unionised industry in the 1970s, particularly in Britain, as close to producing an institutional collapse, which was seen off by Thatcher’s economic reforms. To a considerable degree those reforms have lasted; even the most recent Labour government took a line on unions, nationalisation and international trade that was to the right of the Conservatives of the 1960s.

This theory is OK, but looked at critically it is hard to distinguish from post-hoc rationalisation of the failure of the “always swims left” theory. When I put it forward in 2014 that’s really all it was.

Today, though, I have the opportunity to make a prediction based on the theory. The position today as I see it is that immigration has got to the point that nationalisation had reached by the late 70s: if not changed, the current policies produce a real risk of institutional collapse within a timespan to affect the careers of present-day decision-makers.

Therefore I think those immigration policies will be changed, drastically, and soon. The obvious chain of events would be a Trump election victory in the US leading to border enforcement, a clampdown on illegal immigrants and a reduction in legal immigration. According to my theory, that is what the Trump candidacy is all about; that means we would not expect to see meaningful changes in other areas of policy.

We might well see broad changes of a superficial nature; an elected politician, like Thatcher, who comes in with a mandate to change a progressive policy has a different image to project than a normal politician, and that will be exhibited in the newsworthy but unimportant elements of the media–political circus. But the central prediction is that the change is not a total repudiation of progressivism, rather a piece of damage control on a limited policy area.

That’s the first prediction: if Trump wins the presidency, there will be a massive change in immigration policy, no meaningful change in other areas of policy. I would not even expect to see any significant change in the status of American blacks, for instance.

It is possible to go further, however. Elections are not the major decisive events in history. If Trump does not win the election, the immigration clampdown will happen anyway. It might take a few more years, but the reason it can happen is not because the public is clamouring for it, it is because it is genuinely necessary, and that means it probably will happen. If Hillary wins, it will quite possibly happen even within her term, and if she refuses, then 2020 will see Trump II, with less (but still some) establishment hostility.

There’s more though. The popular discontent that produced Trump has also produced hard-left candidates; Sanders in the US and Corbyn in the UK. There are a number of similarities between the rise of anti-immigration politicians like Trump on one hand and these candidates on the other. However, those similarities are all on the “public” side of their popular, anti-establishment appeal, and that is unimportant. If any of these hard-left characters get into power (which seems unlikely at the moment), the result will simply be more of the same. Cthulhu will continue to swim left, and probably no faster than he has done under Blair or Obama. Immigration is likely to be somewhat fixed anyway, but not necessarily immediately.

There is no immediate evidence of any sympathy within the establishment for an anti-immigration position. Why would there be? The permanent establishment is not looking for votes. If Trump loses, having shown any less hostility to him than the next apparatchik will be shameful, and if he wins, there will be time enough to come around to the inevitable. He will have to fight to push his policy through, but the opposition will not be as determined as it would have been ten years ago. Privately, many of those he fights will be OK with losing, as long as it doesn’t look like their fault that the incorrect policy has happened. And once the policy has happened, it will be a done deal; reversing it outright will not truly be on the table for twenty years.


Hewitt, paedophilia and 1970s progressivism


The newspapers in Britain are full of something I mentioned as an
aside in
a post last year—the
fact that 1970s consolidation of progressive power was the phase that
included the dropping of legalised paedophilia as a progressive
goal. The status of the Paedophile Information Exchange as an
affiliate of the National Council of Civil Liberties was what I had in
mind when I wrote that. It was never any secret.

The establishment line, coming from senior policiticans who shared
platforms with paedophile campaigners forty years ago, is that their
progressive movements were “infiltrated” by “evil” paedophiles, later
driven out. Inasmuch as “infiltration” implies any degree of secrecy
or misrepresentation at all, that is very obviously untrue. In the
early 1970s, paedophilia was a progressive cause. Rock stars’ banging
of underage groupies was seen as part of their general wildness and
edginess. It might eventually end in tears, but the same goes for
their other wild behaviour like dropping acid or driving sports cars
at 100mph—sex with teenagers was seen as in the same moral category as
these other excesses.

East Germany legalised homosexual sex in 1968, with an age of consent
of 14. The NCCL, by campaigning a few years later for Britain to
follow that example, was holding a perfectly respectable progressive
position—and going even further. (NCCL supported reducing age of
consent to 10 “in some circumstances”, which I think meant
relationships between children).

The Guardian today
quoted a letter
from Patricia Hewitt, saying “Our proposal that the age of consent be
reduced is based on the belief that neither the police nor the
criminal courts should have the power to intervene in a consenting
sexual activity between two young people.” That was the progressive
position in 1976. There have been pictures of demonstrations against
the PIE, but the placards brandished by the demonstrators carried the
National Front logo—not a respectable organisation.

The question for historians to ask about the 1970s is not, “how could
respectable people have supported paedophilia back then?”, rather, it
is “how did they not succeed?” My original answer was that as the
rebels became the establishment, they were forced to take some small
measure of responsibility for keeping society together, and withdrew
from a few of their most dangerous demands. That’s no more than a
hypothesis really, since I have no particular evidence for it. The
truth could possibly be even more interesting.

Update 16 March 2014
I just noticed on Wikipedia,
that the Labour Party was proposing
reducing the age of consent to 14 as late as 1998.


What Happened in the Sixties?


Point 5 of Nydwracu’s Priority Research Areas for Neoreaction is:
“What happened in the ‘60s?”

My guess would be: the death of conservatism. Except that that
probably happened in the 1950s, and the sixties were a delayed reaction
to the fact that progressivism no longer had any organised opposition.

The familiar neoreactionary story is that progressives have long had
the upper hand, certainly since the death of Queen Anne in England,
and from the very beginning in the American colonies. Modern leftism
is simply descended from the whigs.

However, though they were dominant throughout the period 1714 – 1960,
they were never entirely unchallenged. There were still Tories in
positions of influence who maintained a coherent traditionalist
political philosophy, and who (in the later period) accomodated with
the age of democracy without ever accepting its assumptions.

That political force was dying in England by 1945. It was routed and
destroyed by 1957. After two hundred years of advance by overcoming
conservative opposition, progressivism was left completely
unconstrained. Scattered discontents remained, but, without a living
conservative movement or philosophy to draw from, they were not able
to make arguments that would satisfy anyone.

Progressives responded by driving out potential rebels — first from
academia, always a centre of progressivism but soon owned by them
exclusively, and then from organised religion.

What we think of as “the sixties” was the gradual realisation by
progressives that they could get away with anything. Every door they
pushed on swung open, and there was a decade of exuberant pillage.

The end came as they gradually adapted to the fact that they were now
the establishment, and needed to produce some measure of moderation
from within. They started to address their contradictions among
themselves: many of today’s basic political and cultural assumptions
were decided somewhat arbitrarily in that 1970s settlement. (That, for
instance, is where paedophiles failed to make the cut as a protected
victim group). The recessions of the 1970s injected a note of realism
into economic policy, and the enfeebled Conservative Party reenergised
itelf, but basing its new opposing philosophy on classical liberalism
rather than conservatism.

It was hard for me to understand the process, because, being born
after the sixties, an actual conservative movement is something I have
never seen. It was on its last legs in the first half of the century,
but it really existed. This
biography of Anthony Eden
gives some clues as to what it looked like: patrician, honourable,
suspicious of America, and doomed. There were presumably others like
Eden, but today there are none.

This has obviously been a very anglocentric account. I would guess
that the story for France would be fairly similar, though I don’t
know, but that America was a bit different. The outcome seems to have
been much the same in all three.


Noah’s Castle

28th April 2013

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I suspect my
impression

of what a collapse of society looks like is heavily influenced by the
1970s TV series Noah’s
Castle
,
which I saw when I was a child.
As I recall, the plot was that this chap saw that things were all going
wrong, and moved out to the country and stocked his cellar up with
food. The point of the story was the moral dilemma of whether he would
keep his stores for his own whiny ungrateful kids or open them up to
the hungry mob at his gates.
The purported dilemma seemed almost as inane to me thirty-odd years
ago as it does today, but the image of the wild horde begging for the
tinned spam in the basement stuck with me.
That’s my excuse, anyway, because looking at the idea now, it’s not
all that convincing. Firstly, whether you feel like giving away your
hoard is a minor question compared to whether you can hang onto
it. Second, if it really did get to the stage where the existing food
distribution mechanisms broke down, or food became too expensive for
the masses, we would be looking at a minimum of hundreds of thousands
starving. Third, drastic changes in government would happen before
that, so reactionaries who waited for actual anarchy before acting as
I recommended recently would be leaving it too late.
So the question is, what are the stages of the collapse of the state?
At what point can a reactionary leader claim to be restoring order
rather than opposing order?
I plan to write a few posts looking at the likeliest possibilities,
but first there are a couple of other lines to rule out.
Simple state bankruptcy is not the answer. States can and do run out
of money, without losing control. As we have seen in Cyprus, the state
can simply confiscate what it needs taxation no longer suffices.
Running out of money could very well contribute to a failure of the
state, but in itself it does not constitute a failure.
A foreign invasion obviously is a failure, but that’s not a likely
scenario for Britain, so that can be ruled out.
My current theory is that democracy probably goes first. Once the
progressives have abandoned or bypassed democracy, even as a temporary
expedient, it becomes possible for reactionaries to claim that since
the rulers’ position is no longer justified democratically, there is
no reason for the people who caused the crisis to remain in power.
I will expand on this later.


Lady Thatcher

18th April 2013

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I was on the street yesterday to see Baroness Thatcher’s funeral procession go by. She was only a politician, but respect is important, ritual is important, and getting in the way of the left imposing their own narrative is satisfying.
 As for her real legacy, it can be confusing. On one hand, many have pointed out that Thatcher’s achievement is that the controversial positions she introduced are now completely mainstream across the political spectrum. In terms of the broad political positions on the role of the state in the economy, Ed Miliband is to the right of Thatcher.
I read that, and nod sagely.
At the same time, a few others are pointing out that she never really made a difference. The state is bigger now than it was in 1979, and controls more of the economy. The leftist singularity grows closer. The social conservatism she occasionally made small efforts towards has been steamrollered over.
I read that, and nod sagely.
What were the achievements of Thatcher as Prime Minister? She broke the power of the Unions, replaced a largely state-run economy with free enterprise and competition, opened up international trade and reduced taxation.
It looks now as if all those things would have happened anyway. They happened across the world, enacted by right-wing parties and left-wing parties. The main cause was the decline of the economic importance of mass manufacturing. When the economy depended on factories, mines and the like, with armies of semi-skilled workers, the unions had substantial real power, and running the economy effectively consisted in large part in managing those armies of workers. The wartime economies morphed easily into command economies, all across Europe.
In the 1970s, automation gradually ate away at the “armies of workers” model. Economic success came less from better handling of a mass workforce and more from the innovations of the highly-skilled and from better management of capital. However, the political institutions did not reflect reality — the unions had real power, high top tax rates were an impediment to getting the best out of the most skilled, and tariffs were an obstacle to employing capital effectively. This state of affairs existed through the 1970s, causing the economic devastation that Thatcher is now credited with “saving” us from.
Across Europe, the cost overhang of the industry which was no longer productive but survived because of its political power became prohibitive, and resulted in a political conflict. Thatcher did not start the conflict; it had been going on for a decade under both Labour and Conservative governments. She won it, as Wilson, Heath and Callaghan had tried to do unsuccessfully. To the extent that she deserves credit for it, it is not for taking on the miners, steelworkers, etc., but for winning. But it is not clear that any of the alternative politicians that might have held the office of Prime Minister for the early eighties would necessarily have failed.
(In the USA, the greater efficiency of industry meant the erosion of manufacturing happened a bit later, and the much weaker political power of the manufacturing unions meant that happened much more gradually, rather than being a catastrophic event as it was in Britain.)
The need to develop new industries to replace the mass manufacturing required the deregulation and tax reform that happened in the 1980s. In the old economy, the expertise and capital to build industry could most easily be assembled by governments. For the new economy, they just couldn’t and governments had to compete to bring high-skilled people and capital to their territory.
So what look like the massive, enduring achievements of Thatcherism were really just the spirit of the times. There were other achievements though. Argentina might have been allowed to take over the Falklands with only a little fuss. While I think the defence of sovereignty was justified and right, I can’t honestly say it makes a big difference to me, now. The sale of council houses was a policy that need not have happened. I’m not sure whether that was a good thing or not — if the state is going to house the poor, it could be argued that owning and managing the housing is a more sensible approach than the current Housing Benefit mess, though there are arguments on both sides.
The centralisation of power away from the already quite weak local government bodies also seems to have been a global phenomenon. It was possibly an inevitable effect of the breakdown of the postwar consensus, under which it didn’t matter which party controlled a council because they all did the same thing anyway.
Finally, we have the end of the Cold War. The strong support for Reagan may have enabled him to push the USSR over the edge faster than otherwise, but I think it was doomed anyway.
 So the real enduring achievements of Thatcher are much smaller than generally supposed by supporters and enemies. Her undoubted strength of conviction may have caused the inevitable to have happened a couple of years sooner than would otherwise have been the case. This might have given Britain a better economic position relative to other countries, due to a head start. On the other hand, the conflicts that happened might have been less violent and destructive if they had been left a bit longer.
What is striking, particularly in comparison with the last ten years, is how competent the Thatcher government was. After all, if the things that governments do are more or less out of the control of particular politicians, all they actually control is whether the things are done well or badly, and, when set against Brown or Cameron, Thatcher and her government did a lot of new, difficult things with surprisingly few missteps.





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