Does the State have Limits?

Karl Marx was right about a lot of things, actually — class conflict being the biggest.  He was even right about the “law of increasing immiseration,” for a certain value of “immiseration” — it’s spiritual, not material.  The Frankfurt School saw this (scroll down at the link); that’s one of the reasons they asserted that capitalism makes you crazy.  That was the Frankfurt Schoolers’ recurring nightmare, that the kind of “state capitalism” Lenin warned about would forestall the Revolution forever.

Which is hilarious if you think about it, because it’s the Left who are all in on State Capitalism these days, and the guys in Our Thing — the “Right,” for lack of a better term — who insist on the spiritual necessity of revolution.

Turns out Marx was right about that, too:  First time as tragedy, second as farce.

The problem with any all-encompassing social theory, though, is that it assumes present trends will continue.  Karl Marx was born in 1818 — just three years after Waterloo.  The Industrial Revolution was still in its infancy, so the “proletariat” really was being immiserated at an ever-increasing rate.  The great event of Marx’s early adulthood was the Year of Revolutions,1848.  It doesn’t wash the blood of millions off his hands, but it’s at least understandable that he thought world events really were breaking his way.  By the time of his death (1883) it was clear that a lot of his ideas were, if not fully wrong, then at least in need of serious modification… but by that time “Marxism” had very little to do with Karl Marx.

That’s where there’s room for hope, comrades.  And we need it, because present trends are looking very, very bad for us.

Starting from the top: All previous political commentary assumed that the State has some hard limits.  The least-contentious definition of “sovereignty,” for instance, is “monopoly on the legitimate use of force,” which implies that the ruled can always resort to illegitimate force against their rulers.  This seems to be the default assumption in Our Thing, too — the “molon labe, motherfuckers!” crowd clearly see themselves as the Wolverines from Red Dawn, taking the battle to Incitatus Ocasio-Cortez and the few lickspittles in the security forces that will follow her.  They point to the success of Afghani goatherds against our troops…

… but they never acknowledge that our troops are 10,000 miles away from home, fighting under rules of engagement that make Johnson’s Vietnam ROE look like a how-to guide for the Waffen-SS.  And they certainly never acknowledge the reason our ROE are so restrictive:

Communication speed.

That’s the fundamental limit on state power.  Had the British generals in Boston been able to get the word out in time and actually catch the rebels at Lexington and Concord, there’d have been no American Revolution.  If King Charles had been on Twitter and got the word about the London arsenals before Parliament did, the English Civil War would’ve been over before it started.  Pretty much every single Roman civil war can be traced back to some commander out in the boonies with too much time on his hands.  Put the Emperor on Skype, and we’d still be sacrificing to the Cult of Divine Augustus.

Our guys in Trashcanistan know that every single thing they do is potentially on the net, live, in real time.  See, for example, Obama watching the “get bin Laden” mission.  He had the technical capacity to call it off almost to the minute the choppers crashed.  How long does it take a scrambled electronic signal to reach Islamabad from DC?  That’s your window for independent action.

Now apply that to the United States.  If the government wanted to blast me for wrongthink, how much time would I have?  How long does it take for the computer to see I’ve hit “publish” on this little screed, identify a drone asset in the vicinity, and relay the order?  Five seconds?  Ten?  Then calculate the flight time of the cruise missile from wherever it was launched.  That’s my lifespan, should the State decree it so.  Maybe six, seven minutes, would you say?

How many dronings do you think it’ll take to cow the populace?  Molon labe indeed.  Remember, the government’s spin can go out in real time, too.  Sure, sure, they can convene a blue ribbon commission to “investigate” just why I was that I got droned.  They can even “punish” someone for icing a US citizen without due process.  In the meantime, though, the video of my house getting blown to smithereens is on every computer in the entire world, instantly.  How’s that going to work out, Wolverines?  “Gosh, it turns out it was all a great big misunderstanding.  I’m sure we can trust Space Command not to do it again.”

That’s if present trends continue, of course.  So long as nothing happens to the communications infrastructure, we’re pretty much screwed.

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7 thoughts on “Does the State have Limits?

  1. P_Ang

    I understand but…what is the point? Not to discourage or demean in any way but one day it’s “La Cosa Nostra”, ie “This thing of ours” and the next it’s “it’s pointless, no-one will do anything but talk and the gub’ment will insta-kill us anyway.”
    Chin-up soldier. They have the colleges, schools, print and television media, and the reigns, if not the total control of, the interwebz. We have God and guns, morality, and for those non-believers…common friggen sense on our side. Our (incredibly rare) brave leaders are heads and tails above their best.

    1. Severian Post author

      One of the things I keep banging on about in modern life is the Twitterification / blogification of communication. Since it doesn’t happen in real-time, and Tweets, especially, come in random order, we’re forced to write such that each block of text can only have one obvious, concrete meaning.

      Combine that with the surveillance state — in which certain obvious, concrete meanings are flagged, by computer algorithms, as worthy of attention from the authorities — and a certain type of communication becomes very difficult. It forces writers to get cabalistic. E.g. phrasing things in terms of questions — Does the State have limits?, vs. a more direct assertion (“The State has no limits”). It also forces conjunctions to do a lot of the work.

      1. P_Ang

        Ah, so I was right to address this as La Cosa Nostra and now that the meaning is clear there is no need to mention it again unless we change it to a less algorithym-specific usage. I do see your point, and that reminds me of something I’ve been telling my elected betters for years, we need to buy our own radio, tv and movie businesses. And now internet. Or at least START our own. I’ve got you. Piece of grapefruit in my eye. *Wink*

  2. Henry

    Maybe we will get a general who has had too much time on his hands, who also has access to some sort of EMP. An EMP would probably cause the deaths of millions of lives, maybe even my own, but I think an EMP detonation is a great fantasy.

    1. Severian Post author

      See, that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about – one of those strings of words that a search algorithm would surely pick up on.

      “Nothing happens to” covers a lot of ground. Just like “cord cutting” does in the context of cable providers. It means anything from “stealing everything off pirate sites” to “just not watching tv.” Personally, I just don’t watch tv.

    2. rwc1963

      Who needs EMP? There are many other ways of turning off the unblinking cyclops that watches over us. Any high voltage electrician or power specialist could think of a dozen ways of monkey wrenching the grid.

      And if it’s another nation state like Russia, oh boy do they have non-nuclear ways of destroying our power grid and orbital assets. Why do you think our military and politicians only pick on 4th world cesspits run by Muslims? Russia could reduce us to 1850 level tech simply by taking out our GPS sats that are tied into everything from SWIFT. NYSE and even keeping the power grid synched up and working.

      Here’s the thing, think of a modern 1st world country as a human body with it’s nervous and circulatory system exposed as well as it’s tendons and ligaments. That’s how vulnerable our infrastructure is. It isn’t protected because it can’t be to a large extent.

      Then factor in JIT delivery of goods for our cities and we’re 72-96 hours away from urban collapse if the grid goes down and can’t be revived in a certain length of time.

      BTW the gov’t went to ELINT because it’s cheaper than hiring millions of snitches and spooks STASI style. Conversely it means we really, really suck at human intelligence gathering or meat space encounters with any group that aren’t stone cold morons.

      Half way smart bad guys would limit communications to methods that ELINT can’t track or if they do, they have no idea what is going on. IOW go low tech. Don’t carry a cell phone linked to you and when you do, take the battery out until you need it. Drive a older model car with no networking, On-Star, Lo–Jack on it. Always use cash in transactions. Study how the French Resistance, 1% MC gangs or the Triads operate.

  3. rwc1963

    One other thing. Big Brother( BB) is absolutely ruthless and nuts. Witness their collective attack to force Trump to sign that open borders compromise bill. They are willing to risk collapsing the social safety net and economy to take down Trump.

    They really are f**king insane to go this route. They could wait Trump out but maniacs aren’t capable of patience any more than Hitler or Stalin were. Tucker Carlson who lives among them constantly states the fact they are very out of touch, ignorant and incapable of admitting error. That’s a very bad combo. In normal people that leads to disaster. For the elect they simply glide from one high paying gig to another knowing nothing and learning nothing.

    That said, ‘the state’ has no limits to it’s power. It merely passes various fatwas like some bloated mullah sitting in dung hole does and it becomes the law of the land and all very legal. The only difference is that we dress it up with senile black robed jurists to sell it to the populace so they don’t feel they’ve been raped again.

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