Civil War and the Status Quo


We’ve all been hearing fears of civil war in America recently, and while I think those fears are overblown (as fears generally are), I want to address something that doesn’t make the news feeds:

the fact that we can take this question seriously exposes a sick, degenerate status quo.

We need to be clear on this point.

Arguments Pro and Con

I don’t believe civil war will come to America on any serious scale. My reason is a simple one:

I can see 5,000 hard leftists and 5,000 hard rightists going out to kill each other, but I can’t see my neighbors pulling their guns down from their attics, dusting them off, and running out to shoot people across town.

Only the most irrational and agitated people kill over politics. Average people may waste oceans of time and money on politics, but they do not stab and shoot those who disagree.

Jonathan Logan, however (my co-author for The New Age of Intelligence), sees it differently. He makes a thoughtful, informed argument for civil war, and I think it’s worth passing along. I’ll have to summarize:

  • For young people to be susceptible to war (and it’s the young, not the old, who fight), they must not be too settled, not too invested, not too satisfied, not too stable. And they must be dragged in by some motive, be it “making a name for themselves” or “fighting evil” or whatever.

  • Few young people in the West are willing to fight “for my country.” (Approximately 12% in Germany and 20% in the US.) But when you ask if they would participate in riots against an unjust political order, the numbers shoot up. In Germany, it’s 66%; in the US, it’s about 60%.

  • For a civil war to break out, enough people must perceive the current situation as unbearable and be willing to use violence.

  • The police must be unable or unwilling to keep the two sides apart.

That’s the theory. Here are Jonathan’s observation:

  • There’s a growing inability of “cultural progressives” and “cultural conservatives” to engage in dialog.

  • For a long time the “cultural progressives” had success after success. That led to the internal perception that they were not just right but also absolutely right… that only stupid hicks stood in their way.

  • Meanwhile, the “cultural conservatives” grew dissatisfied. They were pushed to the point where they had a hard time tolerating some of the things that went on.

  • Then came Brexit and Trump. Before those, progressives were absolutely convinced that they were right, that they would win, and that the future would be bright. This wasn’t just an assumption; it was a conviction… like the sun rising tomorrow morning. And then they learned that they were wrong. That was more than just an unexpected failure; it destroyed their world perception.

  • The result is widespread post-traumatic stress disorder. The progressives didn’t just lose; they were traumatized. They now experience anything not 100% on their side as being violent, hurtful, triggering. Their way to deal with this is to push more, to become more radical, to accept less compromise. They feel that everyone else is actually trying to kill them.

  • At the same time the cultural conservatives experienced something new: victory. Previously they had only lost. Still, when they see new pushes from the progressives, they remember all the times they were beaten, and they feel pushed back into a corner.

  • So, we have two groups, pushed into corners, and between them is… nothing. They are deeply polarized and don’t have anything in common anymore.

  • And the problem is… it’s the Millennials, a generation that knows they can expect nothing from the status quo. Furthermore, they lack tools for conflict resolution. Their generation is split between progressives and conservatives. And because they are neither the largest nor the most influential generation, they have no way to implement anything.

  • From this we get people on the progressive side who must radicalize, who must destroy the other side. If you look at the various progressive protests and riots, that’s exactly what you see. They are desperate, hurting, hating… and feeling righteous all the while.

  • Concurrently, the conservatives are becoming afraid. They think that if this thing on the progressive side doesn’t calm down, they’ll have to defend themselves.

  • If these movements continue, Millennial conservatives and Millennial progressives will pull out clubs and knives.

  • At the same time, the police – because of the progressive/conservative stalemate in politics – are unable to decisively take sides.

  • That’s how you start a civil war.

My Thoughts

While I think Jonathan makes important points, I think, and certainly hope, the people who are currently so polarized will recover themselves and leave the paranoid extremes. (As we were waiting to publish, this wonderful letter came in, seeking to pull young people back to reason. I complain about academia plenty, but the professors who authored this get my heartfelt thanks.)

Here’s something I wrote a month or so after Trump’s election (and Brexit):

Where is the cool head that says something sensible? Perhaps like this: “Listen boys, this isn’t worth tearing the county apart over. We may not like Trump, but he cares about this country in his own way, and he’ll work four years to reach his goals. He’s not going to sell nukes to terrorists, and he’s not out to conquer the world. Let him have his turn.”

The failure of my generation is that such cool-headed people are absent from the public stage.

The sin of the media complex is that they’re stirring this up for ratings. If civil war does come, they will be the true villains.

As those of us of a certain age used to say, “It’s time to split this scene.” Politics is poison and rulership is barbarity. It’s time to dump the status quo and to start building something better.

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Paul Rosenberg

Here come the “Purity Police”

purity policeIf I happen to be near Jay’s bar on a Tuesday afternoon, I try to stop in. That’s when my friends from the cypherpunk days are likely to be there. We always had meetings in Jay’s back room at 6:30 on Tuesdays (though most of us got their earlier). We had Ethernet cables, good Internet connections (for the time), and a private place to talk.

Last Tuesday, I stopped by and sat at the bar to talk to Jay. I don’t actually drink very much, so I ordered my usual, a tonic and lime. Jay’s getting older and slower these days, but he’s still grumpy and kind-hearted at the same time. It’s an odd but endearing mix.

Anyway, as Jay and I discussed our families, I saw a guy from the old days walk in. And honestly, I rather dreaded seeing him. This guy, James, was all-complaint, all the time. After a while, I avoided him. He was smart and very well read, but he always talked about what other people were doing wrong.

But, it had been a lot of years, so I walked over and said hello. I soon found out that James hadn’t really changed.

Instead of running networks and living in an old, dark apartment, he was now working in a finance company and living in the suburbs. He had actually been married for a year or two, but that didn’t work out.

I offered my condolences on the marriage and tried to move toward happy subjects, but I got no farther than mentioning how excited I was about Bitcoin. Before I could start a second sentence, he was telling me about attacks that could be made on Bitcoin, flaws with the mining process and how Satoshi (the original architect) should have written the program.

“Yes,” I said, “a lot of that is true, but the Bitcoin economy includes ten thousand bright, young, motivated people – adaptive people – and that’s a very powerful thing.”

James wasn’t impressed. He went on to describe, in intricate detail, why the philosophy underlying Bitcoin wasn’t quite right. I was ready to write the guy off permanently and leave, when he excused himself and went to the bathroom.

Jay walked over. “The guy talks too much, eh?”

“Yeah, Jay, and always a long list of complaints.”

“Yeah, I see guys like him sometimes. All talk and no do.” James was returning and Jay moved away, wiping the bar. And then I realized what James had made himself: the purity police, a Soviet style political officer.

He could and would tell you where everyone else was missing it, but Jay was right – he was all talk and no do. The truth was, he didn’t have the courage to act. He never took any risks and never acted in the real, physical world.

James substituted talking for doing. And to prove himself potent, he painted himself as a righteous avenger. He appointed himself to the job of certifying who was technically correct, libertarian enough and rational enough.

So, rather than giving this guy a chance to point out everyone’s flaws, I started asking questions about his life: friends, family, and so on.

What I learned was tragic. This guy had alienated nearly everyone in his life, except his now-elderly mother. He was living alone, unhappy in his miserable but stable job. I stopped inquiring. The guy is a downer, but by bringing up the topics, I was causing him pain for no payoff. I said that I needed to go and headed out, waving at Jay as I went.

I thought about James all the way home. This guy had loads of talent. He could have done any number of things and had a rewarding life, but he never did. Instead, he spends his evenings on Internet chat boards, exposing every flaw he can find (or imagine) in other people’s work.

Honestly, I wish I had understood the problem when we were young – I could have pushed him to do things – small things first, then bigger things once he had built up some courage.

Being able to discern right and wrong is important but only as a precursor to action.

Acting changes us in crucial ways, and this guy never tasted that. Instead, he stagnated and became bitter.

Rather than gathering the courage to take a risk and act – for something good, for anything good – James became a political officer, the purity police. And he was ruined by it.

So pick your spot, my friends, and then act. Start small if you want, but break your inertia and take action.

I don’t even mind people acting wrongly at first, because once they’re actually doing something, their direction can be corrected. But the person who never breaks their inertia – who never stands up and acts – he or she degrades.

There is magic in doing. There’s none in endless talking.

Paul Rosenberg