The Last Citizens

Citizens - CropThe Last Citizens may already have been born. The ideals that made it possible to be democratic citizens of a nation protected by international human rights have become so corrupted, and indeed purposefully distorted, that it is far from clear that anyone is still a citizen in the sense that came to exist immediately after World War II. But the Last Citizens are still citizens in at least one sense: they remember what it means to be part of a democracy of rights... and even the capacity to remember what this means provides some glimmer of hope for the future.

Despite its influences in the ancient world, citizenship in the sense of belonging to a democracy of rights is a comparatively contemporary idea. Unrest in the imperial nations brought an end to the old faith in the divine right of kings that had sustained monarchy as the sole legitimate mechanism of rule. The English Civil Wars ended in 1649 with the execution of Charles I - a situation previously unthinkable. Yes, one monarch had executed another, and wars of succession had a long history, but this was something different. The king was found guilty of asserting "unlimited and tyrannical power to rule according to his will, and to overthrow the rights and liberties of the people". The world's first Bill of Rights arrived forty years later. But we were not yet citizens.

There is a certain irony to the way that the American Revolution was also a revolt against the British crown, that is, against the monarchy formed through a merger between the Scottish and English crowns. The throne had been restored after the English experiment in republicanism ended in failure after just eleven years, but it now faced in 'the colonies' what it had previously faced at home: revolution. Yet the Declaration of Independence in 1776 still did not create citizens, and even the constitution of 1789 did not allow for this understanding until the addition of the Fourteenth Amendment, in 1868. Conversely, the French Revolution that followed soon after proudly announced in 1789 the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

As Benedict Anderson remarks of these events, the combination of a revolution followed by a declaration of rights and citizenship created a model for a nation that could be creatively 'pirated', and citizenship spread around South America and the former imperial colonies bordering upon the Pacific with a certain inevitability. Anderson's claim, oft repeated but seldom fully appreciated, was that the arrival of widespread printing created novels and newspapers that allowed people to imagine themselves as part of the same community. These imagined communities were the origin of the nation in a sense that was radically different from that of monarchy. No longer subjects, we were now citizens.

The usual interest in Anderson's arguments is rather shallow, since it is taken as a diagnosis of nationalism, taken in the negative. But Anderson's interest was broader and more intriguing - he expressly denies we should think of 'nationalism' as an ideology, like liberalism or fascism. Rather, he sees 'nationalism' as akin to 'kinship' or 'religion' - as different ways of imagining human relationships. Indeed, a large part of his book is taken with showing how the imagined communities of religion served a role similar to that of the nation in the half millennia beforehand: people imagined themselves as members of a religion that united them with vast numbers of strangers long before they imagined themselves as members of a nation.

To be a citizen of a nation, however, is to recognise one's membership in that nation, just as to be a Hindu, a Christian, a Buddhist, a Muslim, or a Jew is to recognise one's membership in that religion. In both cases, what matters is not merely recognising membership of a set, but a metaphorical brotherhood and sisterhood with others who also belong to that set. Those who leap from Anderson's book to nationalism-as-ideology misunderstand his purposes. Racism, he argues, justifies repression and domination within the nation; nationalism leads to wars with others in order to protect 'our' land. Whoever loves their nation is willing to die for what it represents, just as one who loves God is willing to die for that faith represents - and contrary to how this is usually taken, this need not mean being willing to kill.

The lazy assumption that these imagined nations are a pathology betrays us. We are lured into thinking that those people who believe in nations are terrible and need to be excluded and repressed. In other words, demonising the love of a nation is itself a path to the bigotry being reviled - a pattern we have seen so many times, with each and every belief system whether religious, national, or secular. In this regard, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, whatever its flaws, attempted to transcend nationalist bigotry by declaring not only rights for everyone, but a right to citizenship itself (a right to belong to a nation). It was a spirited attempt to make good on everything that had gone wrong when the old conception of 'Natural Rights' that had fuelled the Revolutions had been discredited by the two World Wars.

No, nationalism as such is not necessarily our problem. Indeed, it was love of the United States that led people to protest against the Vietnam war in the 1960s, as Anderson himself later made explicit. The citizen of a nation is capable of feeling ashamed of crimes their country has committed, for which the concept of 'not in my name' carries some weight. While we are still citizens, we must have this connection to a nation, because it is only in the context of a democratic nation that we can be citizens, and we can be so solely if we belong to that nation. It is the erosion of this sense of imagined community which is precisely why citizenship has begun to unravel.

The problem, as Chantal Mouffe brilliantly explored in the early twenty first century, is that the 'left' and the 'right' ceased to be mutually engaged in citizenship any more. The entire point of this original division, which commenced in the French Revolution with the first seating of the National Assembly, was to distinguish two different perspectives within one common nation. But as Mouffe traces, the 'left' gradually lost this commitment, and this in two ways: through adopting extreme forms of individualism, that elevated the individual and denigrated the nation, and also through an obsession with a zealous rationality that is often named 'Science' but has nothing whatsoever to do with scientific practice.

Thus for those caught up in the imagined tides of the 'left', identarian politics invited people to join different imagined communities - as LGB or one of its later permutations, as neuro-diverse, as queer, as black, as trans, and ultimately, when all the seats outside of white and male had been taken, as these final accursed categories, which became the reviled and excluded remnants of the identarian parade. These alternative identities pulled people away from imagining themselves as part of a democratic community united as nations. Nowhere was this clearer than in the nonsense of the last few years, when the mistaken belief that experts could establish, at the drop of a hat, scientific and therefore medical truth, led people to abandon citizenship for a brutal and ignorant technocracy. Nations were suddenly irrelevant: what mattered was your chosen identity and your loyalty to a specific political surrogate for scientific truth.

Between these two forces, the imagined ideal of the citizen in a democracy of rights was entirely torn apart. Rather than the 'left' and 'right' having different imaginings about the same nation, the 'right' continued to imagine the nation, while the left began to imagine internationally, which is to say (like the subjects of the English and French crowns before them), they began to imagine an empire. As I wrote in The Third Accord, our image of citizenship has thus been torn into two fragments. The 'right' clings to the image of membership in a nation that belongs to them, while the 'left' has carried the freedom to dissent to an absurd extreme that now denies any disagreement. For this 'new left', any attempt to imagine belonging to a nation has become secondary to the coalition of imagined identarian communities united in commitment to an empire of magical science.

Nowhere is this collapse of the ideals of citizenship clearer than in the cries of 'Not My President' and the deranged denouncement of political opponents as inhuman, evil, and beneath contempt, such that any thought of compromise or debate with them is unthinkable. The absolutism of monarchy has returned in the divine right of idiots to believe in their own stupidity so completely as to become incapable of listening to any other perspective at all. On this path, even censoring free speech and tampering with elections becomes morally justified because 'they' cannot be allowed to 'win'. The United States has all but lost any notion of citizenship because it has abandoned its commitment to debating disagreements and working collectively to forge a common image of what the nation could or should become. And the other nations are never far behind the mistakes that the United States leads the world in making.

Yet all is not lost. The Last Citizens may indeed have already been born, but these are still the people among us willing to listen and compromise. These brave souls - or those that follow them - might be able to forge the third accord, to reunite the many different worlds of our one, shared planet into a common political ideal. Those that were seduced away from freedom by the deceptions of a false necessity have at least this one redeeming quality: they still believe in ideals... it is just that our collective imaginings have been so corrupted they can now cause only harm. We must rebuild either the notion of citizens within democracies of rights, or an ideal that can replace it. And the only way this can come about is if we discover how to pursue this momentous undertaking together.

The opening image is a detail from Citizens by Chris Arlidge. No copyright infringement is intended and I'll take the image down if asked.

Open Data

Alma Thomas - The EclipseOpen source began a cultural movement back towards the commons that for the first time established a form of solidarity within technology. At its heart, the open source movement argues that the computer code behind software ought to be publicly available, for both ethical and pragmatic reasons. But open source isn't enough. What we may need to complete this transition is open data.

The recent news that Elon Musk's bid to takeover Twitter is back on the table has created the usual stir. The new left, committed to a censorship it deems entirely necessary, is up in arms about how this will allow the right back onto Twitter, which is apparently a disastrous proposition. But the suggestion that censorship is 'necessary for democracy' is laughable if all this means is "I don't want to have to listen to what my political opponents have to say". Democracy requires the free exchange of ideas, and the moment one faction is given the power to decide what speech is or isn't permitted, we are deep into the territory that Orwell's 1984 warned about.

This sudden zealotry for censorship has collapsed scientific discourse in the last two years, not because research has ceased to function, but because dissemination has faltered. It has been surreal to find open scientific discourse driven underground where, oddly, it thrives, although while it is trapped there practitioners have to interact with folks holding fringe beliefs who I imagine have been excluded from polite society for quite some time. Meanwhile, it seems far too many people (including and especially doctors) trust the media to accurately inform them, which reporters have shamefully ceased to do, preferring one-sided phantasmal narratives over authentic investigation. Alas, if the behaviour of the Vatican in the Middle Ages didn't sufficiently warn of the dangers of allowing institutions to control thought, then the surreality of these past two years will presumably also fail to teach us the lesson we neglected to learn from history. The substitution of enforced consensus for scientific discourse is not a path to truth, it is the utter denial of it.

When Musk declared that Twitter was the "de facto public square", I believe he was absolutely right. Don't let the smaller number of users deceive you - Facebook has many more people sharing cat photos, but the political snowball effect that led to censorship and thus enormous global harm originated on Twitter, where a grim consensus formed over speculative health care interventions that was pure fabulism, having no basis in the existing scientific data or practices. Our first step to restoring democracy must be the restoration of civic discourse. Thus when Musk revealed his intentions for Twitter, I could not help but feel a glimmer of hope that a 'third accord' to replace the fallen Old Republic of human rights (and the Rights of Man that preceded it) might yet be achievable. This third accord may not even need the actions of the nation states to bring it about.

It is fascinating to dig through the private messages that Musk disclosed for the lawsuit between him and Twitter. Two exchanges leap out at me in particular. Firstly, one with former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who suggested on 26th March 2022:

I believe it must be an open source protocol, funded by a foundation of sorts that doesn't own the protocol, only advanced it. A bit like what Signal has done. It can't have an advertising model. Otherwise you have surface area that governments and advertisers will try to influence and control. If it has a centralized entity behind it, it will be attacked. This isn't complicated work, it just has to be done right so it's resilient to what has happened to twitter.

And secondly, on 9th April 2022, an exchange with Musk's brother, Kimball:

I have an idea for a blockchain social media system that does both payments and short text messages/links like twitter. You have to pay a tiny amount to register your message on the chain, which will cut out the vast majority of spam and bots. There is no throat to choke, so free speech is guaranteed.

This is not just open source we are talking about here, it is open data. Right now, social media messages belong to the company that provides the tools - who are then both tempted and empowered to censor, as both Facebook and Twitter did to reckless degrees in recent years. This alternate path would see these messages shared as part of a public protocol. You could choose who you want to curate messages for you, because anyone could mount a tool on top of the protocol. Musk also appears to be considering a "marketplace of algorithms" (suggested to him by Matthias Dopfner in an exchange on 6th April 2022), such that those who require personalised censorship for the benefit of their delicate sensibilities might indulge in it without cutting of public conversation at its roots.

It is well worth pondering the case of Alex Berenson, a former journalist for the New York Times who was banned from Twitter in August 2021 for posting alleged 'misinformation'. In fact, Berenson had not posted anything that was not factual, and it was apparent to anyone who had kept their ear to the research literature that Berenson was both in the know and in the right. So convinced was Berenson of the justice of his cause that he took Twitter to court - and won. On 6th July 2022, Twitter was forced to reinstate him. (Although they banned him again on the 8th October 2022...) However, Twitter clearly knew they had no legitimate basis to ban him, as this internal discussion inside Twitter shows:

Twitter discussing BerensonAs Berenson makes clear, this legal ruling against Twitter was technical and concerned violation of terms of service (the court did not, as far as I can tell, explore any of the  specifics of the claims Berenson was making). What's especially interesting about the Berenson case, however, is what the legal disclosure revealed. The Biden administration leaned on Twitter to silence Berenson, because he was challenging (with legitimate cause) the behaviour of the CDC and the FDA, and by extension undermining the authority of the White House. In this regard, Twitter was behaving as a 'state actor', and therefore violated the First Amendment. This is yet another huge and explosive story that is not permitted to be told, but in my view this approaches the Watergate scandal in its despicable audacity.

Those that are committed to supporting Biden because they have been polarised into one of the two major kinds of useful idiot will struggle to accept the evident wrong-doing entailed in this debacle. For such people I am delighted to report that what President Biden allowed to happen on his watch through apparent senility is matched in shamefulness by what President Trump permitted to happen on his watch through incompetence. Apparently distracted by someone in the audience metaphorically jangling some keys, Mr Trump allowed a positively jubilant Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci to throw away the right to free association that by legal precedent is also ascribed to the First Amendment. You are free to support whichever useful idiot you like, but please don't try to convince me that either of these Presidents has in any sense of the word been 'good'.

Open data would have prevented the White House from pressuring Twitter to silence Berenson, because his messages would have been irrevocably available for everyone to see - as they always should have been. The integrity of the public square matters greatly if we truly believe in free expression, in democracy, in free speech, or for that matter in the value of the sciences, which always rests upon the freedom to discuss all the possible interpretations of the evidence. Trust in 'The Science' is blind faith in magical science, and this is nothing but idolatry, a corruption of everything scientific investigation stands for. This graven image is one that far too many people have been fooled into worshipping by the New Empire, whose primary tool has become the silencing of those who break with doctrine. A shiny new oligarchical cyber-Vatican for the 21st century!

Nor should we think about open data as applying solely to our social media messages. An intriguing suggestion has been made repeatedly by 'El Gato Malo', a retired pharmaceuticals executive and well-known figure in the scientific underground. He was also banned from Twitter, in his case simply because President Trump shared one of his tweets (strange but apparently true!). I am far from convinced by everything the 'Bad Cat' says, and he is clearly politically to the right of anywhere I might choose to sit down. However, I am in complete agreement with him when he suggests that "public health must be made public", and proposes using open data to share anonymized health records publicly. Such an approach would remove, to name just one benefit, Pfizer's ability to hide their trial data and prevent third parties from adequately investigating its veracity, as British Medical Journal editor Peter Doshi has repeatedly called for as necessary. Open data would ensure adequate scrutiny on all public health claims, rather than permitting the tyranny of unelected agencies we have endured for the past two years. It would represent a radical step toward finally decolonising public health.

As I wrote in The Paradox of Conviction, we would rather be certain than know the truth, and this is the underlying psychology that drives sci-dolatry, self-righteous calls for censorship of contrary opinions, and a great many of our contemporary 'culture war' ills besides. If we want to recover the will to discover what might be true, we must be prepared to endure the collision of disagreements. Censorship, 'fact checkers', disinformation committees - these are not means to protect the truth, they are methods of preventing its discovery. Lies require such authoritarian mechanisms to sustain themselves, because they cannot withstand open discourse. The truth never requires us to silence those who have made mistakes, for the truth itself is strong enough to withstand whatever we might say about it.

It is this sensitivity to the dangers of allowing the institutions with power to control public discourse that Musk, and other like him, appear to share. If Musk is an unlikely ally against the New Empire, we can at least be grateful that anyone is still willing to take a principled stand in these dark and wretched times. When I argued at the beginning of the year against the colonial philanthropy of someone such as Bill Gates, whose institute has been a major player in exacerbating the disaster that was the last two years, I proposed that the only legitimate philanthropy was that which restores or expands the commons. Musk's takeover of Twitter certainly entails enormous commercial benefits for him, but then, Gates too has made extraordinary sums of money from his colonial philanthropy. Elites, it seems, do nothing for free. Yet in so much as Musk's motivation in this affair might also include principled goals, it leans towards a philanthropy of the only kind we should be willing to accept from wealthy power elites: that which restores the commons.

The public square is indeed a commons, one that forms the hub of political, cultural, and scientific discourse. The closing of this space through censorship lies at the heart of everything that has gone wrong in the past few years. We will struggle to get beyond the impasse, however, if we do not take the opportunity to reveal and confess all the myriad mistakes that contributed to the global catastrophe that was our response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. If the Republicans gain the advantage in the coming US midterm elections, we will likely get little more than recriminatory witch-hunts that will intensify the fractures. What we may need to restore both public and scientific discourse is something more like truth and reconciliation, and if I rather doubt we will get it, I remain hopeful there is still a path forward provided at least some of us remain committed to the inevitable ambiguity of truth.

Truth may be elusive, but it is not fragile: it survives the battle of disagreements that it attracts. Truths are like dark matter, exerting an inexorable gravitational pull that we can witness, even though the truth itself remains forever hidden. If we wish to recover our openness to unveiling these intangible truths, all we need is our willingness to talk to one another, to disagree, to debate. That alone has the power to restore scientific discourse, and perhaps to get us beyond this horrific disaster we have recklessly enacted together in a deadly convergence of cultivated fear and misguided ignorance. This restoration of the global public square requires open data, and with it the power to place all discourse beyond the reach of any individual, any corporation, or any government to silence.

The opening image is The Eclipse by Alma Thomas, which I found at the website for the Smithsonian, here. As ever, no copyright infringement is intended and I will take the image down if asked.

Power and Scale

Martin Cervantez.Daydream NightmaresSince World War II, the cultural battle of ideologies has been pivoting around 'capitalism' as one of its axis. Even when Islamism is used as a foil (instead of the usual villain, communism), the ideals that square up against it are aligned with the concept of 'capitalism' as a kind of liberty rooted in the freedom of the marketplace. But even if we value the notion of uninhibited commerce, we can no longer pretend that capitalism, communism, or anything else of this kind is the shape of an ethic we can legitimately align with liberty. Those of us who still care about human freedom must think anew about what it is that we could reasonably hold as a shared ideal.

To understand how the situation has swung out of control, we first have to appreciate the remarkable achievements of the New Empire that has risen up to replace the Old Republic of human rights. But to bring this into focus, we need to think around the problem, to see what is hidden by the immense shadow that it casts upon our thought. A comparison with the historical 'dark ages' is not too great a stretch. These were not, as first thought, a period where there was no cultural development or exchange, but they were certainly a period during which maintenance of doctrines in a top-down fashion placed a limit upon thought and knowledge. It was not by accident that the 'dark ages' were followed by 'the Enlightenment'. Now that the light from this era dims, we face, as Alastair MacIntyre already warned us back in 1984, a "new dark ages" where the barbarians "have already been governing us for quite some time."

Since the nonsense descended upon us, I have spent more time than usual exchanging missives with US libertarians, which is to say, people who believe in personal liberty and also have great faith in the free market. There is a package of beliefs here, a non-religion that is not my own but which I respect. The assumption, not without justification, is that when we are permitted to trade our goods and services freely, the psychology of value works to bring about efficiencies in certain aspects of human life. To put this another way, those companies that deliver goods and services effectively triumph in the marketplace precisely because they act efficiently. Libertarians of such ilk are generally against the intervention of the government in matters of this kind for the logical reason that such meddling disrupts the order of the marketplace, which they contend works to bring about efficient delivery of goods and services. I actually do not disagree with them on this point, but I am perhaps too acutely aware that it is merely an ideal.

We need ideals, we need ethics, because without them we fall swiftly into evil, which is to say, causing harm and excusing ourselves of doing so (or causing harm and refusing to acknowledge that we have done so). But every ideal we adopt, every package of beliefs we take on, always also deceives us, because it comes with a blind spot that the very framework of our chosen ideal makes harder to see. For the libertarians, one way of seeing this blind spot is in the way that they conceive 'communism' (and by extension 'socialism'). To a US libertarian, socialism/communism refers to the administering of any service via the State rather than via the free market. By and large, this is not quite what these terms mean to Europeans.

Certainly, there are many on the old political left that this faith in State-services would fit, and this is especially so in the US. Completely missed here, however, is the solidarity of the workers that used to be the key ideal in British left politics before the Labour party betrayed its roots and swore allegiance to the New Empire. That there is a distortion of perception wrapped up in this understanding can be seen in the way that the US libertarians like to say that Italian fascism was a left-wing political movement. It wasn't. But neither was it a right-wing movement. It was a movement against Communism that acquired support from both the left and the right. Indeed, left-leaning radicals in Europe often supported Italian fascism if they were not convinced by Communism. This doesn't alter the nationalistic thrust of fascism, which the left simply cannot associate with itself, since it clings to an understanding of the universal genderless human that once underpinned our commitments to human rights but that has now been severed from them.

So this libertarian ideal sees the intervention of the government as harmful and the action of the free market as good. But this framework misses the enormous problem with the ideal of unencumbered trade - one which is well-known and not in question: those that successfully build enough resources through trade will form monopolies, and these inevitably disrupt the free market by virtue of the power they have thus acquired. I still do not quite understand what the libertarian's retort is in respect of monopolies, because surely you cannot complain about government intervention in the market yet turn to the government to break up monopolies!

It seems unavoidable that the only power structure with the influence to break up monopolies is the State, but the libertarian does not want the State to possess any power over the market. Do such libertarians believe that, in the imaginary ideal of free trade, people would bring down monopolies of their own accord because they would clearly see the problems they cause...? The trouble with this understanding is that nothing of the kind has ever happened. Monopolies enjoy such advantages of efficiency that the end users frequently are delighted by it - just ask those who without qualms or scruples use the services provided by Google, Meta, or Amazon, or for that matter Disney, not to mention Pfizer. Such people are delighted with what these monopolies, near-monopolies, or (in the case of pharmaceuticals) cartels deliver them. Why would they object...?

When we look at the incredible power that these transnational corporations possess, we can also see the enormous difficulty that any State has in applying power against them. The power the megacorporations possess exceeds that of most nations, not only because of the scale of the money that flows through them, but also because the sheer size of their network allows them to wield enormous influence upon the State itself. The US has tax revenues of $3.8 trillion, which is more than Amazon, Google, Meta, Pfizer, and Disney put together (about $1.04 trillion collectively). But those corporate billions not only make for enormous tax revenue the State is strongly motivated to defend, the transnationals can also buy substantial influence in Washington through political donations. In the case of the United States, where all of these companies are registered, this ultimately means the State is more interested in serving these organisations than anything else, especially while the citizens are satisfied with the services these near-monopolies and trade cartels are delivering. This is especially problematic when this allows the harms caused by these organisations to be quietly concealed.

Support for 'capitalism' means too many different things to really describe anything worth defending or opposing any more, it is an artefact of a time that has passed. To the US libertarians, 'capitalism' means supporting a free market that has not existed for quite some time now. To supporters of US corporations, 'capitalism' means something very different indeed. And either way, putting up 'communism' or 'socialism' as an opposite pole conceals the authentic political and social risks that are being faced by accepting this new power bloc. The Old Republic of human rights was not brought down by a sudden re-emergence of communism as a major international force any more than the delivery of so-called 'socialised medicine' in the Scandinavian nations excluded them from falling in line with the pharmaceutical cartels up until the Summer of this year.

For what remains of the radicals and activists, all this talk of the power of the corporations (capitalism) or the power of the state (socialism) is a distraction from what has truly destroyed the old world order and taken charge of a new one, essentially unnoticed. For it is the power that comes with scale that has triumphed, and upon which the New Empire rests. Yes, the United States operates on a global scale, and yes so does China and, to a lesser extent, the European Union, and even Russia, who everyone has their knickers in a twist over right now. But Amazon, Google, Meta, Pfizer, and Disney (in that order) equally operate on a global scale, and with greater power and influence, and each has billions of users in their networks. Even China only has a population of one and a half billion.

In The Virtuous Cyborg, I drew attention to the blurring of the lines between nations and corporations because the sheer scale of the circumstances relating to the transnationals was now coming to dwarf that of nations. It is not hard to appreciate that this increase in scale has come with a commensurate increase in power, but what it has not come with is an increase in understanding. Indeed, in The Virtuous Cyborg I suggested that "nothing is in control, least of all humanity..." precisely because power now outstrips understanding by orders of magnitude. It is far easier to build power than knowledge, since while the sciences and other methods of knowledge-production can benefit from the network effects of scale, this is only true when free debate operates within them. The moment discourse is prevented, there are no sciences as such, only power and control over research agendas. If the power grows first, the knowledge is all too easily brought under distortive control.

Whether our ideals revolve around the free market or something else entirely, we may finally have reached a point where we have to ask whether continuing to permit these transnational organisations to operate on the vast scales they have attained isn't an invitation to cause inevitable and tremendous harm. It is all but impossible to possess the power that comes with this degree of scale without falling prey to evil (causing harm) because power grows with scale but understanding need not, and certainly will not when those with power interrupt the discourse required to carefully construct understanding. Indeed, this is a possible diagnosis of the global tragedy that we just lived through.

Yet even if we reached this conclusion, what could we then do about it...? If these transnational corporations already have the greatest degree of influence over the largest of the nation states, who or what could possibly bring them to account now? The only possible answer is to forge new ideals that act against the power of scale, for without an ethic of this kind, no counterweight is possible, and the New Empire's reign will inexorably become absolute. This is one of the greatest challenges that faces those of us who are already aware that a new dark ages might already be upon us.

The opening image is Daydream Nightmares, which has been attributed to Martin Cervantez, but does not appear at his artist website for some reason. As ever, no copyright infringement is intended and I will take the image down if asked.

Meritocracy vs Equitocracy

Cell-no7-angela-canada-hopkinsDemocracy is something more than one person, one vote. It is perfectly possible to reign tyrannically and still grant a vote to individuals, as many a dictatorship has shown. Democracy used to mean that we all shared equal rights, but the Old Republic has fallen, and we cannot get back to it from where we are. Still, we ought to strive to understand why it failed. One key reason the era of human rights ended was the emergence of a new political tactic for claiming 'emergency powers' as a means of usurping democratic rule. This boondoggle can make any nation into an overnight tyranny, simply by claiming that experts are certain that extreme measures must be deployed. Thus expert power is antithetical to democracy, when it is understood as the equality of citizens. Yet expert advice is vital to democratic life. How do we resolve this contradiction...?

Experts are a form of elite, those that are appointed their status through academic achievement rather than by birth. It may be worth noting that when these intellectual elites first appeared, in the preceding centuries, every one of them was born into elite status. Nowadays, it is no longer permitted that we think like the Victorians did about the superiority of the 'gentleman' - a theme that Charles Dickens revolted against again and again in his novels. We are supposed to know today that noble birth doesn't automatically make us into better people. Yet this same mythology lives on, it has just been recast as meritocracy. Today, those born into money and status routinely ignore the tremendous luck involved in their circumstances in just the same way that the Victorian gentlemen salved their consciences and stoked their egos with their own arrogance. Believing in meritocracy means that power, status, and wealth necessarily flow to the worthy. Therefore the fact that I have power, status, and wealth becomes the evidence of my worthiness.

Against this facile implementation of the ideal of meritocracy, the left-leaning academic community have quietly revolted in disgust. The ivory tower crowd have managed to come up with a supposedly brilliant new alternative: equity. Correctly recognising that meritocracy ignores the tremendous disparity in starting circumstances, this new ideal of equity sets about to attain equality of outcomes. No longer will people be judged on their merits, now it is just a matter of determining who is disadvantaged and giving them more advantages, a kind of sports day handicapping system based upon... well, our whimsical perceptions of disadvantage as far as I can tell. This new equitocracy is directly opposed to meritocracy although, ironically, both are supported by elites, albeit of different political flavours. Pragmatically, equitocratic rule does not undermine the power already possessed by elites, it merely chooses an arbitrary subset of the non-elites in the echelons below to bestow advantages .

Yet regardless of which form of appointment we prefer (merit or equity), we still leave open the path to expert power. It seems we would much rather accede to our own stupidity than work together to overcome it. This brings us back to the themes of last week's discussion of equal stupidity. We are all, I claim, equally stupid, because while we each will (which is to say, commit) to learning various different skills, every individual has numerous blind spots that are best defended against by pooling our intelligence. What's more, our desires distract us... even where we are skilled, the things that we want can disturb our good judgement. All the more important, therefore, that we do not rely on individual experts to make important decisions but have mechanisms for pooling our intelligence, such as open scientific discourse.

Neither appointing expert power on the basis of merit or appointing it on the basis of equity is anywhere near enough to defend against our equal stupidity. For all that equitocracy is opposed to meritocracy, it is far from obvious that it is an improvement upon it - and this will either sound obvious or blasphemous, depending upon where your political desires have been drawn. Diversity hires may seem like a way of 'helping' minorities, but if everyone knows that experts are appointed for the identity boxes they check rather than their expertise, it undermines trust in those experts and exacerbates existing prejudices ("they were only hired because they ticked such-and-such a box"). What a ludicrous mistake to make!

Unavoidably, both meritocracy and equitocracy are equally stupid, and for the same reason: people have stacked their own stupid on top of people with the same stupid, instead of being open to criticism from those with a different stupid to contribute. Somewhere between the elite tautology of meritocracy and the reshuffled Marxism of equitocracy lies a way of living together that everybody might plausibly will. But instead of working out what it is, we have decided we would rather just let our political desires draw us into the lazy pathways of oh-so-many painfully stupid political conflicts. Again.

This tyranny of experts that has reigned since the Enlightenment is certainly empowered by meritocracy but it is also inevitably implied by equitocracy too. After all, how can equitocracy function if not by having experts determine the disadvantages in order to distribute the advantages...? Yet expertise is a funny thing. Success in the meritocracy, as equitocrats know all too well, is not wholly dependent upon skill, and is often far more influenced by social position ("it's not what you know, it's who you know"). Conversely, success in the equitocracy, as meritocrats know all too well, is also not wholly dependent upon skill, and is often far more dependent upon being something other than white, male, or straight ("it's not what you know, it's the identity boxes you tick"). So we have no good reason at all to trust that any experts are adequate to the tasks assigned to them these days - and every reason to expect that their equal stupidity will manifest, since there is nothing set up as an adequate counterweight to expert power.

The inevitable, the unavoidable truth that this leads to is that censorship is incitement to stupidity. For whenever we appoint experts to adjudicate and do not allow for the debate to determine the wisdom and intelligence of what is proposed, we are aligning our equal stupidity to create dangerous blind spots. Political factionalism is the engine of staggering ignorance that has led us to this bizarre future world where our technology is unthinkably advanced and our problem-solving is asinine. Or, as Einstein put it: "Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem to characterize our age." The strongest defence against our equal stupidity would be to pool our equality of intelligence together. Why don't we want that...?

I know the objections this will rear up. "But such-and-such a person believes such-and-such!" Yes, but so what...? Open debate is the greatest crucible for distinguishing desire from will, for overcoming equal stupidity, and for benefiting from the equality of our intelligence. Do you really think open debate will lead to public health policy being dictated by those who believe viruses don't exist, or maps being drafted by flat earthers, or history being written by Young Earth Creationists...? Or is it more likely that being able to freely hold such debates might in fact allow us to pool our equality of intelligence to overcome those ways in which we are all equally stupid.

The truth that has remained hidden from us for so long is that reasonable objections take many forms, and it does not require an expert to raise them. If a particular course of action bankrupts a great many small businesses and transfers money to large corporations, is it not wise that a democratic society should listen to the objections of those running those small business...? And this is especially so if those who have been granted expert power are in fact swayed in their desires by the incitements of wealth that inevitably accumulates around the large corporations. This seems to me to be one of two ways of explaining the abject failure of the CDC and FDA in the last two years, the other being that its experts were distracted from open scientific discourse by their mere political desires. Most likely, it was both.

If there is a way to combine meritocracy and equitocracy, it must begin by tempering the excesses of expert power with the open debate that is the lifeblood of authentic democracy. Social media might provide an ideal forum for doing so, if only we could just stop letting 'experts' determine what is or isn't permitted to be spoken. The law already gives us the boundary condition we need - incitement to violence. Everything else is intellectual gerrymandering, a grotesque opportunity for those who happen to express their equal stupidity identically to destroy our collective intelligence, both scientific and otherwise. The moment we grant anyone the covert expert power to adjudicate what must not be said, we abandon democratic ideals. Censorship cannot empower expert knowledge, it merely inflates the risks inherent in our all-too-human stupidity.

We ought to take from meritocracy the idea of expert advisors requiring suitable expertise rather than meeting arbitrary identity checkboxes. But we ought to take from equitocracy the vital necessity of keeping the pathways to success open to everyone, regardless of their circumstances. Hiring the same kind of people increases the risk of stacking up the same kinds of stupid, while authentic diversity enhances our collective intelligence. Besides, changing how experts are appointed merely shifts whose power matters, it does not solve any significant problem we are facing. What is required instead is an equality of objection, the freedom to speak out against whatever form of stupidity is being allowed to manifest. It is time that we demand again our once-sacred right of free speech from each and every space of discourse, for only free and open debate can truly defend against the manifest dangers of our equal stupidity.

The opening image Cell No.7 by Angela Canada-Hopkins, which I found here. As ever, no copyright infringement is intended and I will take the image down if asked.


High risk of cognitive dissonance.

ImpropergandaIf I were to allege that a particular article of news was propaganda, it would not cause even the faintest stir. For it has come to be accepted by everyone that the nature of all reporting is to advance a political agenda in one way or another - for instance, to produce sympathy for refugees by telling a story from their own wretched perspective, or to encourage antipathy for 'migrants' by detailing their attempts to enter a nation illegally. But if I was to allege that a news article in support of vaccines was propaganda, it would be treated as a scandal about me that I would say such a thing. Why should this be...?

There is perhaps no-one left who believes that the news media is in the business of establishing the truth. It is therefore no surprise that we choose a source of news that conforms to our political commitments - only when we are looking at the news for those others that are not like us does the news becomes filthy propaganda. Our own news is appropriate and proportionate, it is, shall we say, properganda.

What, then, is the point in complaining about the behaviour of reporters if all we are doing is assessing whether the stories align with our prior beliefs...? Intuitively, we should like there to be some criticism we can bring to bear against those writing the news that cuts deeper than the merely trivial assessment of whether they are in line with (or opposed to) our politics. Clearly, these kinds of judgements are external to the art of reporting, such as it is. In other words, we feel that there must be some way that something can be judged as improperganda.

However, in order for this accusation to bear fruit, it cannot simply be that the opposing political positions produce improperganda and our political allies write properganda. This would be a vacuous way of making an assessment, since it would merely be reiterating our political judgements. It follows, therefore, that if there is such a thing as improperganda, it must be something that our own journalists can be found guilty of. Thus our very desire to impugn the media of the opposing camps must be set aside if we are to establish any viable criteria by which the delivery of news can be judged proper or improper.

What constitutes improperganda, then, must be either internal to the logic of the story told, or entail a comparison between the story and the available facts that exceeds anything that can be made to fit by creative interpretation. Improperganda must mark a flaw in the story that breaks its purpose - for if the tale being told was fit for its intended purpose, it would then be suitable to be called properganda. We can say that what constitutes improperganda is akin to a flaw in a gem. However we cut or polish it, that imperfection cannot be removed or hidden. Only if the uncut gem was without flaw can we finish up with a perfect jewel. Likewise, to end up with properganda, we must have raw material without a flaw, to which no imperfections are added by the writing.

Now we are getting somewhere! And it leads also to a distinction that might be made between a journalist, who exercises an art and a craft through their writing, and a mere reporter, who reiterates claims they have heard, and is largely just a paid gossip. The journalist writes about people, while the reporter presumes to be merely writing facts - which means that the journalist, in shaping the story, can produce properganda by finding how their political commitments are reflected in the events being conveyed, or improperganda when they misrepresent the events beyond plausibility.

The reporter on the other hand produces properganda solely if they somehow manage to get all the facts correct. This is rather beyond their control on most topics, since the reporter has little knowledge of their own on which to judge what they are repeating. Thus a great deal of reporting is likely to end up as improperganda. There is also the 'fact checker', which is a kind of reporter who exploits the widespread decline of trust in the news in order to masquerade as an authoritative expert. Specialising in counter-propaganda, 'fact checkers' redirect both proper and improperganda according to the political dictates of their paymasters. This is a whole new low for the news media - their very name is improperganda, for it implies an impartiality that is the exact opposite of their true motivation.

Whenever news providers make political commitments on matters of fact (whether as reporters or as 'fact checkers'), it leads to trouble. It is particularly troubling when such pledges are made behind closed doors, but even when they are made in public they can be extremely dangerous. Thus when Google, the BBC, Reuters, the Associated Press and so forth formed the Trusted News Initiative and vowed to prevent 'misinformation' about vaccination circulating, how could they possibly hope that they could then remain factual in covering this topic...? In choosing to take solely one possible line of interpretation in advance ('every negative thing spoken about vaccines is necessarily misinformation'), this reckless censorship alliance could only grossly increase their risk of circulating vaccine improperganda.

Of course, there's plenty of improperganda to go around when it comes to vaccination! For instance, you will find people pathologically committed to conspiratorial tales about how the World Economic Forum contrived to purposefully unleash a killer drug in order to intentionally depopulate the world. As much as it amuses me to think of the one-percenter club as the villains in a second-rate Bond movie, such tales strain credulity. But then, the deployment of dubious computer models in a widely parroted Bill Gates-funded paper that claims that millions of lives have been saved by COVID-19 vaccinations is an equally preposterous example of improperganda. It might be decades before any plausible scientific conclusion can be reached about how many lives were saved by these medical treatments - and at this point, we still cannot rule out the possibility that this was not at all what actually happened...

The entire situation is as embarrassing as it is tragic, and even without the full facts at our disposal the news media's behaviour with regard to the COVID-19 debacle has been unforgivably reckless. It could never have been sensible to assume an equivalence between those twentieth century vaccines that underwent ten years of rigorous testing before being widely deployed, and these newer treatments that were enthusiastically forced onto everyone despite zero years of data and no long-term control group. It was equally foolhardy to cheerlead national lockdowns on the basis of little more than the blind hope they would help rather than causing even greater harms, as many people tried to warn us at the time.

What slips between the cracks of the media's willingness to report seems to become more and more alarming with every passing day. There is no doubt that Pfizer conducted fraud in its vaccine trials, for instance - not only did the British Medical Journal break this story in November 2021, but Pfizer bizarrely admitted to fraud in an attempt to get an embarrassing whistleblower case thrown out of court! Not entirely surprising given that this is the company that was forced to pay out the largest ever fine for fraudulent behaviour ($2.3 billion)... But it's not just the pharmaceutical companies who are riding roughshod over adequate safety procedures - as Vinay Prasad accuses, the fact that the FDA and CDC "have to rely on a Thailand preprint for the first prospective study of cardiac biomarkers is mind-boggling negligence." According to independent media reports, the FDA and the CDC are now in disarray. One senior FDA official was quoted as saying: "It's like a horror movie I'm being forced to watch and I can't close my eyes... people are getting bad advice and we can’t say anything." Likewise, a CDC scientist was quoted as saying "I used to be proud to tell people I work at the CDC. Now I'm embarrassed." Yet still, the mainstream reporters say nothing.

The most generous interpretation of the news media's behaviour in this regard is that they believe they are acting in everyone's best interests. Perhaps they opted not to report upon the ever-growing evidence of problems with both the safety and the efficacy of Pfizer and Moderna's mRNA-based treatments for fear of reducing people's trust in traditional vaccines or (equivalently) out of a dogged refusal to lend support to those demoniacal 'anti-vaxxer' scapegoats. It is a bit late for that, though, since the lockdowns these reporters previously championed have already significantly undermined childhood vaccinations - a colossal blunder for which our governments and media are both unapologetic and unrepentant. We seem to have a choice between understanding this refusal to report on these topics either as a bizarre form of principled censorship, or else as an improperganda of silence... and neither option is particularly encouraging. 

This disaster has made billions of dollars for Pfizer, aided and abetted by the CDC, the FDA, and an increasingly compromised WHO. And still, the majority of news media remain staunchly unwilling to undermine their messianic vaccine improperganda by calling anyone to account for everything that has gone so disastrously wrong. It now seems unavoidable that whether by reckless lockdown or fraudulently-justified injections, a disturbing number of people tragically damaged their own health after being promised with unwarranted certainty that they were helping to save lives. Until journalists are able to tell these forbidden stories and uncover the truth of what has happened, the news media are complicit in something far, far worse than mere improperganda.

An Abundance of Useful Idiots

May contain traces of snark.

Useful Idiots

The accusation that someone is a 'useful idiot' is one we deploy against our political opponents. As a result, we miss all the ways that we ourselves are the most useful of idiots - because in seeing stupidity always in others and never in ourselves, we are easily manipulated for agendas we simply refuse to recognise.

Pick a political topic, find a useful idiot on both sides. Immigration? Support open borders to provide cheap labour for industrialists, or tighten border controls to provide lucrative business for organised crime and security contractors. Taxation? Support high taxes to give more money for government to squander on crony-staffed NGOs, or support low taxes to help millionaires avoid paying their share of infrastructure overheads. Abortion? Provide an effortless power base to red-team politicians who can do what they like because your support is baked-in, or do the same for the blue team on the other side - either way, once you are polarised on this topic, you are politically neutered because this issue on its own ensures your vote.

It is always those terrible others who are the useful idiots. We are incapable of seeing ourselves this way, for we are oh-so-good and oh-so-smart. We know climate change is the big environmental issue, so we make the awesome sacrifice of paying extra for an electric car that will somehow reduce carbon dioxide emissions even though the electricity that it runs on comes primarily from power plants that emit vast amounts of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels. Best not to look into the environmental impact of lithium mining for the batteries used either, nor at the road safety implications of vehicles that offer far swifter acceleration, but are largely invisible to blind people.

And don't get me started on the useful idiots on either side of vaccination... Are you one of those extremely useful idiots who have helped pharmaceutical companies cut safety testing down from ten years of openly available data to 'we promise it works'...? Or one of the even more useful idiots who prevent medical professionals raising the alarm by insisting upon grand conspiracies about depopulation and mind control because you just couldn't resist grandiose mediocrity...? A more perfect example of bilateral idiocy serving the needs of the rich and powerful there may never have been. If it was revealed tomorrow that Pfizer had invented the term 'anti-vaxxer' as a marketing ploy I would scarcely raise an eyebrow.

The nature of political partisanship is that some proportion of the wealthy and powerful stand to benefit from any issue in the form you are likely to encounter it. This subtle qualification is critical, as there are indeed issues that are not a source of bilateral idiocy. Proposals for paying owners of forest lands fees for environmental services, as happens in Puerto Rico, is unlikely to appear in the mainstream media. Neither will coverage of road accidents, despite these killing 1.3 million people globally every year, many of them children. No matter what the benefits in terms of saving lives or reducing environmental impact, stories that hurt large financial interests (e.g. that make the automotive industry look bad) will simply not get covered. Because the news media know which side their bread is buttered, and its not you providing their bread or their butter.

Unless you support politically marginal topics or belong to an inconsequential faction like the remaining Marxists, its a virtual certainty that you are a useful idiot. Your strongly held political convictions have been fed to you by media lackeys who like you are in mindless thrall to the big commercial powers - whether business, government, or (as is increasingly the case) both together. And the beauty, the horror, of this scheme is that once you are successfully triggered by any one of these fault lines, you are effectively neutralised as a participant in any genuine kind of democracy or politics, because your vote has been captured.

Authentic political existence is a difficult conversation about how we shall live together. The moment you accept instead the temptation to channel your hate and outrage as one of these pre-packaged useful idiocies, you are merely propping up the powers that be. Tragically, it is solely those who can afford the immense cost of sponsoring the news who determine the allowable kinds of idiots. All we get to do is decide which kind of stupid we want to become.

The Fall of the Old Republic (A Memorial for Human Rights)

The Fall of the Old RepublicThe Fall of the Old Republic or A Memorial for Human Rights was a three-part serial that ran here at Only a Game from August 16 until August 30, 2022. From a whimsical framing taken from the Star Wars prequels, the serial details the downfall of the 'Old Republic' of human rights (1948-2011),. The latter two parts explore parallels with the collapse of the Rights of Man discussed by Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism, before ending with a cautious optimism about the possibility of a 'third accord'. Each of the parts ends with a link to the next one, so to read the entire serial, simply click on the first link below, and then follow the “next” links to read on.

Here are the three parts:

If you enjoyed this serial, please leave a comment, or else show that you are fearless in the face of the New Empire by sharing a link on social media.

Thank you!

The Third Accord

The final part of a three-part memorial for human rights.

Chancellor PalpatineWhat do rights look like after human rights? I do not mean here to talk about robot rights - how silly to worry about rights for robots when there are no longer rights for humans! There is no way back to the Old Republic of human rights any more than there is a path that would return us to the regime of the Rights of Man that preceded it. But this does not mean that rights are lost to us forever... it is entirely possible we can reach a third accord, a new conception of the rightful condition. Yet this remains impossible until the New Empire is dismantled, and most people still have no idea that we have traded the souls of our nations for a false promise of safety and security that will forever lie just beyond our reach...

The problem we have to solve now is how a third accord of rights could be achieved when continuity with the line of thought that gave us both the Rights of Man and the Old Republic of human rights has been entirely severed. Both these regimes were founded upon religious-inspired philosophy combined with an unprecedented breaking with prior tradition. The Rights of Man expressly reconfigured the theology of divine rule to afford a place for divine Man (again, a gender neutral term in its day). Human rights were expressly secular, which is to say, immunised from belonging to any specific religious tradition - but those who founded them were indeed religious. A common thread of universal religious thought ran through both eras, permitting the impossible task of a universality only attributable to God united with a relative judgement tied to the conscience of each individual.

This synthesis of the universal with the particular was the unique achievement that made human rights not only possible, but capable of rendering the notion of God entirely ambiguous, a kind of theological Schrodinger's cat. Human rights permitted each to follow their own conscience, which meant that each person would have their own conception of God's truth. But in allowing for both the universal and the particular, human rights permitted the godless the same privilege as the devout - equality in either the eyes of God, or his absence, whichever happened to apply. This divine cat both exists and does not exist... The trouble is, God served a far greater role in this compact than it first appeared. For once 'the One is not', the question of how to secure truth becomes problematic.

The political 'right' claims that truth is universal, and therefore that particular claims of truth must be judged against that universal truth. Put another way, they deny moral relativism, because their faith in universal moral truth transcends such equivocal allowances. But on this path there can be no human rights any more, because the freedom of conscience that these agreements depended upon has been lost - and the political right seems to have no suitable answer to their own inadequacy in this regard. In truth, the right could easily revert to the old solution - believing in the universal, but acknowledging the necessity that individual conscience must be allowed to approximate that universality. Oddly, they cannot seem do this any more. I confess to finding this comparatively recent shortfall utterly mysterious.

The same issue appears on the political 'left' in reverse. The left goes directly to moral relativism and thus rejects the universal, claiming that nothing can possess the status of absolutely true. But this too leads to a contradiction, for this amounts to claiming that the relative itself possesses universal status - such that we are obligated to accept moral relativity with the same dogmatic certainty that the religious traditions afforded to the universal. Anyone who has not drank from this poison chalice can readily see the utter certainty that now fuels the political left - far from rejecting the universal, they have made its rejection their absolute truth. For this new left, the only universal human right remaining is to be particular, and to this creed we are all expected to swear fealty.

Both sides are tied up in conceptual knots and yet between them they manage to constitute the two ironclad wings of the New Empire. What's more, each is constantly empowering the other by increasing the authority of the institutions they are fighting over. Whichever faction seizes control of this careening, uncontrolled political juggernaut has complete conviction in it. The pronouncements of the Empire's agencies become indisputable truth, even though they change all the time, despite no change in the evidence. We are living through George Orwell's fear: “If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened - that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death.”

The left wing of the Empire denies the universal yet still manages to assert it through media narratives of its own choosing - the environmental misdirection of the climate change rhetoric, the persecution of the unvaccinated, the culture war that sets classical women and trans women at each other's throats... Certainty is paradoxically being asserted by those who deny the universal. Does the new left truly believe the mad things they insist are beyond dispute...? Both possible answers are terrifying.

The right wing of the Empire denies the particular yet strangely has now decided to defend it through a renewed commitment to free speech and freedom of thought that previously seemed to scarcely matter to them. In power, such liberty was seditious; in exile, it suddenly becomes necessary. The people who gladly declared essential a literal and figurative war against the poor and racially disadvantaged both at home and abroad now paradoxically assert the ambiguity of what their opponents claim as necessary. Where was that doubt when you were wielding the bloodied sword...?

How can all these incomprehensible contradictions be? It is because the political left and the political right are the fractured remnants of the very ideal that gave us human rights. It is the ideal of the citizen who is bound to a people and belongs with them (the politics of the right), yet is also an individual free to dissent because they are permitted their own conscience (the politics of the left). Each side of the divide is at some point guilty of the sins it accuses its counterpart of perpetuating - if not today, then tomorrow, when the wind changes. Whatever one side takes up as its banner, the other must rally against. Each division is driven into its own madness through its hatred of whatever it currently happens not to be.

And if this is so, if indeed nothing has changed in the human condition except the extent of the dominion that first the right, then the left, seizes through the institutions of power, then the secret of the New Empire is exposed at last: power not only corrupts, but it accumulates. We have made a kind of political perpetual motion machine. So of course, whichever faction holds the sceptre at any given time cannot avoid doing evil, yet as long as they remain in opposition they have some hope of expressing their virtue. In this most uncivil of wars, the power the enemy accumulates is always unjust... but when it changes hands, it still will not be given up. So each Emperor permits more evil than the last.

The third accord can thus follow only from an act of forgiveness that reconciles these two bitter yet oddly interrelated camps, and in so doing restores the integrity of the common image of the human. Only this might allow some possibility of a restoration of human rights, or whatever it is that would follow instead. It is unnecessary for the factions to agree, which is just as well, as this is unthinkable. It is only necessary that they absolve one another of those crimes that have been bitterly remembered. Only then can these affronts come at last to be forgiven, such that all the good hidden in those other ways of being can once more be seen. For we can never be citizens while we are at war with our neighbours.

If you think this awesome reconciliation impossible, I sympathise - but this is the monumental task that falls to those of us who know that the Old Republic of human rights has fallen. The Rights of Man began with bloody revolution against the crown. Human rights agreements required the horrors of the World Wars. And are we not also lying amidst the ruins of a disaster worthy of forging our own new peace...? For if we are not, then know this with grim certainty: only a greater disaster yet to come can open a path to the third accord. I hope and pray that our wisdom may yet prevail against our vengeance.

The Barbed-wire Labyrinth

Part two of a three-part memorial for human rights.

Barbed Wire

Let's play a little game. Read the following text and guess the event being described:

It is almost impossible even now to describe what actually happened... The days before and the days after are separated not like the end of an old and the beginning of a new period, but like the day before and the day after an explosion. Yet this figure of speech is as inaccurate as are all others, because the quiet of sorrow which settles down after a catastrophe has never come to pass. The first explosion seems to have touched off a chain reaction in which we have been caught ever since and which nobody seems to be able to stop... Nothing which was being done, no matter how stupid, no matter how many people knew and foretold the consequences, could be undone or prevented. Every event had the finality of a last judgment, a judgment that was passed neither by God nor by the devil, but looked rather like the expression of some unredeemably stupid fatality.

If you're at all clued up on what's going on in the world at the moment, you might recognise this as a description of the unprecedented disaster we have all been living through. But as you may already have guessed, this is not a description of a contemporary event at all. It is Hannah Arendt's 1951 account of the aftermath of the First World War in Chapter 9 of The Origins of Totalitarianism, "The Decline of the Nation-State and the End of the Rights of Man." Now this title may seem odd. Why in 1951 is Arendt talking about 'the end of the Rights of Man' (meaning 'humanity', for 'Man' used to be a gender neutral term)...? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights had been signed a mere three years before she was writing - so wasn't she at the beginning of human rights...? But what Arendt traces in this stunning piece of historical philosophy is the end of something that preceded the 'Old Republic' of human rights, and which in many ways prepared the way for it.

The idea of the 'Rights of Man' informed among other things the US declaration of independence's assertion that it was "self-evident" that everyone is endowed with "certain unalienable Rights" such as "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." These 'inalienable rights' (as the later grammar has it) were taken to be guaranteed by nations. Precisely the tragedy that Arendt explores within the chapter quoted here is that the destabilising events of the World Wars caused the collapse of many nations, such that those who belonged to these now-inexistent countries were suddenly deprived of both nation and rights:

No statesman, no political figure of any importance could possibly take them seriously; and none of the liberal or radical parties in Europe thought it necessary to incorporate into their program a new declaration of human rights. Neither before nor after the second World War have the victims themselves ever invoked these fundamental rights, which were so evidently denied them, in their many attempts to find a way out of the barbed-wire labyrinth into which events had driven them. On the contrary, the victims shared the disdain and indifference of the powers that be for any attempt of the marginal societies to enforce human rights in any elementary or general sense.

Arendt's 'barbed-wire labyrinth' is a metaphor for the desperation of these refugees with neither home nor nation. They were lost in a figurative maze, because they sought a way out that they could not find, but they were also literally lost behind barbed-wire in the many camps that were set up to hold them. These miserable victims of the destabilising effects of the First World War were treated as "the scum of the earth", and it is from this catastrophe that the Nazi party in Germany was so effectively able to mobilise, while simultaneously destroying the rhetoric of the Rights of Man that would otherwise have made the Holocaust unthinkable:

Those whom the persecutor had singled out as scum of the earth - Jews, Trotskyites, etc.- actually were received as scum of the earth everywhere; those whom persecution had called undesirable became the indésirables of Europe. The official SS newspaper, the Schwarze Korps, stated explicitly in 1938 that if the world was not yet convinced that the Jews were the scum of the earth, it soon would be when unidentifiable beggars, without nationality, without money, and without passports crossed their frontiers. And it is true that this kind of factual propaganda worked better than Goebbels' rhetoric, not only because it established the Jews as scum of the earth, but also because the incredible plight of an ever-growing group of innocent people was like a practical demonstration of the totalitarian movements' cynical claims that no such thing as inalienable human rights existed and that the affirmations of the democracies to the contrary were mere prejudice, hypocrisy, and cowardice in the face of the cruel majesty of a new world. The very phrase "human rights" became for all concerned - victims, persecutors, and onlookers alike - the evidence of hopeless idealism or fumbling feeble-minded hypocrisy.

Here too we see the parallels between the circumstances Arendt talks about in the end of the Rights of Man, and the fall of the Old Republic that now faces us. For her remarks offer today an apt description of the terrible condition recently created for that newest of pariahs, 'the unvaccinated', who have been publicly denounced by numerous esteemed leaders of nations, and blamed for problems they are in no way responsible for. The excuses mounted for demonising the unvaccinated are made all the more vile by the fact that these new 'scum of the earth' have in almost all cases already had a natural infection of the disease they are falsely accused of exacerbating, and thus are in no plausible need of a vaccine against it.

If you have already had chickenpox, you don't need to be vaccinated against it, and the same is true for every infection - how health authorities like the CDC came to deny this basic tenet of immunisation is one of the great mysteries of our own humanitarian catastrophe. It is hard to escape the conclusion that public health agencies gave up their commitment to promoting good health and instead began advocating for the commercial agenda of the pharmaceutical companies in a grotesque inversion of their duty of care. The only other plausible explanations are that these officials distorted scientific fact for wholly political reasons, or that they were grossly incompetent - and frankly, these both seem just as unforgiveable.

To understand how the human rights of the Old Republic unravelled for us, we can learn a great deal from Arendt's account of the collapse of the proceeding regime of the Rights of Man, especially once we appreciate that the philosophical concept of 'inalienable rights' became necessary only once the common religious culture of Europe ceased to be taken for granted:

The proclamation of human rights was also meant to be a much-needed protection in the new era where individuals were no longer secure in the estates to which they were born or sure of their equality before God as Christians. In other words, in the new secularized and emancipated society, men were no longer sure of these social and human rights which until then had been outside the political order and guaranteed not by government and constitution, but by social, spiritual, and religious forces. Therefore throughout the nineteenth century, the consensus of opinion was that human rights had to be invoked whenever individuals needed protection against the new sovereignty of the state and the new arbitrariness of society...

This led to a transition in thought whereby the Rights of Man became caught up in the problem of national emancipation:

As mankind, since the French Revolution, was conceived in the image of a family of nations, it gradually became self-evident that the people, and not the individual, was the image of man... We became aware of the existence of a right to have rights (and that means to live in a framework where one is judged by one’s actions and opinions) and a right to belong to some kind of organized community, only when millions of people emerged who had lost and could not regain these rights because of the new global political situation. The trouble is that this calamity arose not from any lack of civilization, backwardness, or mere tyranny, but on the contrary, that it could not be repaired, because there was no longer any ‘uncivilized’ spot on earth, because whether we like it or not we have really started to live in One World. Only with a completely organized humanity could the loss of home and political status become identical with expulsion from humanity all together.

As then, so now. The refugees created by the Great War were expunged from the World Order because their nations had collapsed, and they entered into the barbed-wire labyrinth where those who no longer belonged were forced to dwell. After the fall of the Old Republic of human rights, you don't even have to be denied a nation to be denied rights. With the outcasts known as the unvaccinated, you can still claim to be a citizen, you are just judged as a lesser kind of being. The root of these two disasters is the same - the confusion of what is right or good with the merely conditional, and from this error emerges a hateful rhetoric that has no basis in scientific or moral truth:

A conception of law which identifies what is right with the notion of what is good for - for the individual, or the family, or the people, or the largest number - becomes inevitable once the absolute and transcendent measurements of religion or the law of nature have lost their authority. And this predicament is by no means solved if the unit to which the "good for" applies is as large as mankind itself. For it is quite conceivable, and even within the realm of practical political possibilities, that one fine day a highly organized and mechanized humanity will conclude quite democratically - namely by majority decision - that for humanity as a whole it would be better to liquidate certain parts thereof.

Arendt feared a base form of democracy that denied human rights and could sanction genocide as 'the will of the majority'. What we have allowed to happen instead manages to sidestep the outrage that would erupt in the face of overt mass murder - the majority decision has been made not to exterminate, but merely to abandon our equality. In our digital age, a virtual construct of exclusion can exist in the same physical space as the illusory freedom of those who co-operate with the dictates of overlords who take the name 'public health' in scandalous vain. Travel, shopping, employment, entertainment... whatever it might be that the powers in charge of the New Empire wish to withdraw from the unvaccinated, the virtual barbed-wire labyrinth rises up from the depths of the internet to deny and imprison. Freedom has become conditional upon compliance, and horrifically we too cheered as the entire edifice of human rights came crashing down around us.

Next: The Third Accord

Fall of the Old Republic

Part one of a three-part memorial for human rights.

How Liberty Dies

As divisive and unpopular as they may be, the Star Wars prequels succeed in dramatically recounting the transition of a Republic of equal citizens into an Empire of power and oppression. It is an epic narrative George Lucas expressly intended as a warning to the United States of America and the United Nations. The 'Old Republic' in Star Wars is thus allegorical for the political realm of equality that sprang out of the bloody wake of World War II. From 1948 until 2011, humanity was protected by a set of promises that were were 'inalienable', meaning 'incapable of being surrendered'. Yet today, human rights are taken to be conditional, and as such, they are no longer rights at all. The era of our own 'Old Republic' of human rights has now definitively ended.

Enlightenment thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, and Mary Wollstonecraft  developed the idea of 'the Rights of Man' and of a rightful condition (Recht in German) that alone could make government legitimate by securing the equality of its citizens. It was the leadership and wisdom of Eleanor Roosevelt in the wake of the second World War that would bring this philosophy to fruition via the drafting and ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. This, together with other documents emerging from the aftermath of the atrocities of World War II, such as the Nuremberg Code the following year, brought about something unprecedented. Kant's vision of a "republicanism of all states together and separately" was made possible by an international commitment to the rightful condition. The 'Old Republic' of human rights had been forged.

Humanity in this era was to be equal, entitled to freedom of speech and thought, to privacy and dignity, and, via the Nuremberg Code, to bodily integrity and the power to decline medical treatment or experimentation. The Old Republic of human rights was constituted upon these foundations, and the very idea of 'democracy' was taken during this period to be intimately bound up with the preservation of rights. It was not enough that a country allowed elections: a democracy in the terms of the Old Republic entailed a nation that had vowed to preserve the rightful condition for everyone. It would have been unthinkable during this time that a person would be denied a fair trial and the presumption of innocence, as codified in Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It would have been equally unthinkable that a majority of citizens would vote to declare that citizens would have to submit to medical experiments without their express consent, as forbidden by the first principle of the Nuremberg Code.

The fall of the Old Republic began with the erosion of the rightful condition in the country that had worked hardest to bring them about: the United States of America. Within the early years of the 21st century, the presidency of George Bush Jr rode roughshod over our human rights promises. The infamous prison at Guantánamo Bay grossly violated Article 5 of the Universal Declaration, which had vowed that "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment". But these violations had at least not been committed against citizens of Bush's own nation... the spirit of human rights had been mauled, but the rightful condition of citizens had been just barely maintained.

It was only in 2011, under President Barrack Obama, that the United States gave up its commitment to the rights of its own citizens. On September 30th 2011, the terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki was assassinated by a drone missile strike, along with publisher and activist Samir Khan, both of who were citizens of the United States. In the wake of these unlawful killings, US citizens were no longer entitled to the judicial protections of Article 11, nor indeed Article 3's promises of "the right to life, liberty and security of person." The US government was now entitled to declare terrorists and terrorist sympathisers exceptions to the rightful condition, utterly voiding the terms of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Thus ended the Old Republic.

At first, I had believed that those committed to liberty would not let these atrocities stand. But the loyalist media had successfully sold the idea that the extermination of those accused of terrorism could be understood as 'war', and nobody objected except for a few brave ex-soldiers who could see the manifest injustice of drone assassinations, and the stain on the honour of the US military they constituted. Yet I kept hoping that we could get back to the Old Republic, that these breaches of rightful condition were not enough to prevent us from returning to human rights some day...

But then 2020 and 2021 demonstrated that it wasn't just the United States - nobody upheld the rightful condition any more. Governments throughout the world passed emergency legislation forcing all citizens to comply with a grand medical experiment to determine whether or not a respiratory virus could be stopped by imprisoning people in their homes. (It couldn't.) Both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Nuremberg Code were broken wide open. Then, as a grisly encore, it was demanded that citizens be stripped of further rights if they did not consent to injection with new medical treatments, whose claimed efficacy was based upon evidence no-one was permitted to review - even when it was revealed that this research had incorporated outright fraud.

We now live in a time when the possible exceptions to the rightful condition are fearfully multiplying. It is not only terrorists, terrorist sympathisers, or anyone else a government wishes to label as 'terrorists' who can be denied rights. Those who will not consent to giving up their bodily autonomy are equally to be excluded. Nations who had previously sworn to uphold human rights continue to persecute the unvaccinated, even while the data on the treatments being mandated veers ever further from the dubious claims of their manufacturers (a vaccine that is truly 95% effective does not require a booster in less than a year). Freedom of conscience and informed consent have been rendered meaningless, and the rightful condition lies in tatters.

The very first articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had promised that we would all be equal in dignity and rights and that no difference in status of any kind would be sufficient to deny this. Neither the colour of our skin, the particulars of our gender, our political or religious beliefs, nor our vaccination status or medical beliefs were supposed to matter when it came to the rightful condition: "Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind...". The erosion of this ideal was so gradual that we barely noticed it. Indeed, if we squint at the past, it almost seems as if nothing has changed... criminals look like terrorists if we ignore due process; vaccination mandates seem well-established when we ignore the decade of safety data that used to be required. Meanwhile, we have slowly forgotten that we were all to be held equal in the Old Republic of human rights.

Now, nobody is equal and everyone is subject to exemption from their rights according to the whims of those in power. Forget the absurd justification that 'nobody is safe until everyone is safe', which offers nothing but the empty promise that our rights will return tomorrow, when these never-ending and ever-multiplying emergencies have passed... The truth is that nobody has rights unless everybody has rights, even terrorists and the unvaccinated. And so nobody has any rights any more. The Old Republic has fallen.

Next: The Barbed-wire Labyrinth