If this winter has taught us nothing else, it has at least reminded us of the permanent lesson that power is absolute. Power always wins. Power is always right. And if you think you’re using power, power is using you.
But power never lives forever. Therefore, the task of the dissident—which means anyone who, for whatever reason, does not see eye to eye with power—is not to fight back against power, or even to overthrow it, but merely to outlive it—and outlive not just to live, but so far as possible to flourish.
This is cool for two reasons. One is that flourishing is probably what you wanted to do anyway. Two is that there’s no need at all for flourishing to involve stepping on anyone else’s toes. When the weak step on the toes of the strong, the strong step on their face. Since this is the way of the world—it’s better if you don’t have to try to change it.
To be a dissident is to abandon, voluntarily or involuntarily, any intention of using power in the present regime—being relevant, making a difference, creating change, etc. At first this will feel like missing a body part. Then you’ll realize it was a tumor.
But how, lightened of this load, should a dissident behave? I suggest an urbane code of dissident speech. The code is: no newspeak; no badspeak; no crowdspeak. This will take a little explaining—but first, let’s motivate it. (Yes, this code applies to GM comments.)
The grand strategy of circulation
History is the Lord God’s will and we cannot know, predict or control it. On the other hand, though, it’s often not too hard to get a sense of what He likes.
When God is pleased to change one regime for another, He often changes one ruling class for another. And his mandate of heaven always seems to fall on some new class which, under the old regime, flourished but did not rule.
Agreeing that most of our social, economic and political problems are regime-complete—meaning they are most easily solved by unconditional regime replacement—and that any complete and successful regime change will involve a total circulation of the elites, implies that there is no longer any politics, only history.
History does not happen on the scale of weeks, months, even years—but decades and centuries. There are exceptions, but rarely reason to bet on them. The only effective political strategy is the historical strategy of getting ready for the next regime change. Any tactics that do not fit this strategy are superfluous or counterproductive. The only tactics that do fit the strategy are any tactics that help you flourish and grow excellent.
In particular, any form of confrontation is considered harmful. Why confront an enemy who is not just slightly stronger, but vastly stronger, than yourself? No one but God can overthrow power—it can only overthrow itself. But power always seems to do that, so maybe there is a God.
You do have a fundamental difference of opinion with the regime. The regime knows it is forever. You, as a Bayesian, think no regime is forever. You know what? Maybe the regime is right. Technology screws up a lot of Bayesian historical reasoning. In that case—you’ll just have to flourish anyway. But it doesn’t feel quite this way to me.
Because of this difference of opinion, power is inherently ill-disposed toward you. It does not like that you exist. And you are defenseless against it. But especially late in a regime, power has limitations. It cannot be everywhere and do everything at all times.
In this somewhat hostile environment, the immediate tactical goal of the dissident is to maximize the product of independence and security. Perfect independence, which would mean behaving as if power did not exist, would be unacceptably dangerous; perfect security, which would mean utter submission, would be unacceptably servile. But we can still imagine a compromise which scores high on both scales.
Modeling the threat
Most dissidents think of themselves as enemies of the state. Nothing could be further from the truth! Dissidents are prey of the state.
Power has no (internal) enemies—not in an era like ours—though it often suits power to pretend it does. It certainly suits the vanity of the dissident to play along—always a bad decision. Never reinforce the frame! Never play into the kabuki.
The difference is simply that our regime does not have a centralized thought-policing apparatus, like the old Eastern bloc. Its actual law-enforcement organs do have some central structure, but their guns are pointed entirely toward confrontational threats.
So there is no one whose job it is to be like: “let’s neutralize this guy.” That would be a professional enemy. In a centralized total state you would see this. I have never seen any evidence that anything of the kind exists here today, though of course who knows. (You may still have personal enemies, of course.)
If power is not an enemy but a predatory animal, like a bear, we see the asymmetry of the relationship. Theoretically, a moose can kill a bear. This is just one way of getting the bear off its case—usually not the easiest. And a moose would never eat a bear. Of course, you are a lot more defenseless than a moose—but nor are you hungry for bear.
If you are securing yourself against an enemy, you need to prevent your enemy from being able to harm you—as you do your best to harm him back. If you are securing yourself against a predator, you only need to prevent the predator from choosing to try to harm you. The bear doesn’t want to eat you. He just wants to eat.
This may be as easy as persuading him to select another moose. We all know the parable of the bear and the running shoes—any physical-security specialist will explain it to you. Even a consistently policed commitment to nonconfrontation gets you quite some distance beyond your “fedposting” friends.
Power is every bit as dangerous as you think. It is nowhere near as intelligent and malicious as you. It is a hungry animal, not an evil genius. Ultimately there is never a formula for dealing with evil geniuses—but hungry animals can be quite consistent.
Human predators are sadists. It makes them feel good to hurt you. They sublimate this evil emotion into an ideology which convinces them that, by hurting you, they are making the world a better place. This is only part of the political formula which tells them that, by supporting the regime, they are making the world a better place.
For by hurting you, they are supporting the regime. And by hurting you, they gain honor, status and power. Who doesn’t want that? Don’t you want it too? While this seems awful when we look at it this simply, they cannot look at it this simply.
These sad people are just slaves—slaves to Moloch. You cannot fight back against them. And ultimately, you have to realize—they want exactly the same thing as you. They want to make the world a better place. The only problem is that they grievously understand the nature of the task—and their understanding of it includes hurting you. So: don’t hate them, don’t fear them, just work hard to stay out of their way.
Ultimately, they are not in command of themselves; the drug speaks through them; if you were in power, half of them would inform on their old friends just to impress you. Which is not the right solution, either. The right solution is just that they need to never, ever taste power again. Most people in most times and places never will anyway.
Which obviously will not happen soon—if it happens ever. Which does not matter. What matters is that you are a human being and you need a telos, a destination—or at least, a strategy. Why not try this strategy? What’s wrong with just flourishing? Let’s look at the tactics that match the strategy.
The revolution is a mood
Any revolution is always a mood. In this mood, the old regime is nothing. It doesn’t matter. It’s simply not worth taking seriously. And once no one takes it seriously, it crumbles—how exactly that happens matters little.
Where does this mood come from? It comes from a culture—which under the new regime is the whole culture, but under the old regime was a subculture. The first step in founding the next regime is founding the subculture that will become its culture.
In this subculture, the old regime is not taken seriously. Yet this subculture must exist and flourish under the old regime. This is not as big a problem as it sounds. Our regime is hardly the USSR in 1957. Repressing subcultures is not one of its specialties—especially when they are elite subcultures.
And since the quality of a social network can only decline, any subculture that hopes to become the leitkultur in a circulation of the elites must be an elite subculture indeed. This is yet another argument against confrontation. While confrontation does excite everyone, it excites elites least of all.
We also see yet another tactical disadvantage of confrontation. If you are confronting the regime, you are taking it seriously. Not only are you objectively reinforcing it by giving it an enemy, however petty and pathetic, to fear together—you are subjectively reinforcing it, by building it up as the antagonist in your mind. Normally, you cannot win by antagonizing the old regime—only by (I know this sounds gay) transcending it.
An urbane speech code
Here is a practical code of conduct for dissidents. It is short, which is good in a rule. The code is: no newspeak; no badspeak; and no crowdspeak. Obviously these fake words take a bit of interpretation—only one of them is Orwell’s.
Again, the goal of this speech code is to maximize the intersection of independence and safety. You should of course feel free to steal it and use it without attribution. But if there is one word which describes the mood this code creates, that word is urbane.
Urbanity must be a boolean quality—a social space either is, or is not, urbane—please don’t pollute the brand. The opposite of urbane is of course gauche.
Newspeak is the political jargon of the regime. This definition is not precise enough for use in a speech code, though.
A sharper way to define newspeak is to pick an arbitrary historical cutoff—100 years ago seems good—and say that a term is newspeak if, though the word or usage was invented after 1921, it denotes a phenomenon that existed before 1921. Obviously, this makes pre-1921 English (plus words for things invented after 1921) oldspeak.
Why prohibit newspeak? It’s simple: newspeak is a weapon. Its only purpose is to bully. Keeping newspeak out of your conversation is like keeping pistols out of your saloon.
If newspeak is not being used in earnest, of course, it is okay. This isn’t the New York Times! Any word can be used ironically or described critically. Use “scare quotes.”
But when that jargon of power, the langue du bois, the LTI, is heard in an urbane space—it is exactly like hearing the Black Speech of Mordor at some gay elf hot-tub party in Rivendell—
Everyone stops. Everyone loses their hardon. What the fuck! Sorry. No. This is a safe space. Roleplay is one thing—dude—we don’t do that. We don’t use the tongue of Mordor. Or did you think it was funny? Look, man—there’s elves here who—
Here we just import the latest speech code—not as written, of course, but as enforced—of any normie social service. Badspeak should have an expansive definition. Anything that would come even close to getting banned by normie moderators is badspeak. (No, this is not a real Orwell word.)
Obviously, as a dissident, you do not believe this restriction is morally necessary. You do not attribute all of the world’s ills, or even any of them, to the persistence of heresy. Lol. Do you remember when you believed that? Actually believed it? You’ve come a long way, baby.
You have a much more practical reason for not doing a badspeak: you don’t want to get droned. Also, since you are a good person, you don’t want the people around you to get droned. I mean—their drones are actually pretty accurate these days—but…
Of course, accepting that you are in Rome and when in Rome, you don’t talk garbage about Titus Livius Augustus, certainly compromises your intellectual independence. But how much? If you can’t express an idea within the inevitable restrictions of power (“free speech” is a nice idea, but I am not sure it has ever happened), frankly—are you even the right person to be expressing that idea? Maybe you should just support it silently, and leave the expressing to someone with a little more silver in his tongue.
Of course, since you may not live in Rome but you do live in 2021, you already know how to follow the rules. But you don’t follow them graciously. Nor should you—since they are perverse and twisted rules, ingeniously adapted to humiliate you. Yet when the purpose of following exactly those same rules is not to submit to power, but to defend and secure yourself and your own, the humiliation inverts and becomes an act of pride. This is the ketman of compliance—the most beautiful ketman of all.
Crowdspeak (again this is fake Orwell) is organizing or encouraging collective action—which includes individual action meant to influence the collective. There are exactly two exceptions to this rule: organizing charitable relief for someone you actually know, and helping good peoples sell a good product (such as fine Gray Mirror subscriptions).
Besides these exceptions, you do a crowdspeak if you urge others to do anything. You are trying to convince other people to help you change the world. Don’t do that. Any time you use the “democratic we,” or the passive “should be done,” you crowdspeak.
Needless to say, a ban on crowdspeaking prohibits any kind of political or religious agitation or proselytization. You should never even be persuading—only explaining. You must recuse any emotional or professional connection to any public institution.
Crowdspeaking is normal human behavior. We even already have a word for collective action in the collective interest: democracy. In fact, “no democracy” would almost be a fine wording; but reclaiming the label seems too contentious. “No politics” is closer, but has similar problems; but in many normie situations, it is probably fine.
One obvious object of a crowdspeak ban is to dissuade the attentions of power by abjuring any pretence of power. Every regime fears and loathes democracy. If your conversation is never used to promote or organize any kind of collective action which is hostile to power, power will have much less interest in it.
And of course, if your conversation is promoting power—you have already been assimilated. So your only independent course is to have nothing to do with power. If you do not want power to target you, do not try to confront power. If you do not want power to use you, do not try to use power.
Every conversation is inherently powerful, as a function of its size. This power must remain in every way dormant. It must not even be spoken of—that would be gauche.
However, there is a subtler reason that a ban on crowdspeak is powerful. Because it is a ban on collective action, it is a ban on impact—on changing the world.
The result of a ban on power, if effectively enforced by social convention, is a market for ideas which is not distorted by power. Ideas in an urbane space do not compete on the basis of their impact; they are not trying to matter; they are trying to be right. But if for any reason you care what the “real world” thinks, the whole simulation decoheres.
So this subculture, unconditionally disconnected from the mind of the regime, can develop a more accurate perception of reality. This perception grows out of a new kind of discourse which is civilized and urbane—more like the lofty public conversation of Victorian science, less like the grueling bureaucratic warfare of modern academia.
Not only does this intellectual renewal—on a scale comparable to the Renaissance or the Reformation—constitute flourishing in every possible way—but a more accurate perception of reality is always exactly what God needs in the brain of his next regime.
Whether or not God gets involved, history records few regimes indeed with the brass balls to refuse to peacefully surrender the baton of sovereignty to some new power plainly far more ready to assume it. Cyrus does not sack Babylon; he does not even need to storm Babylon; he walks in, and it is his. But are you Cyrus yet? Lol. Therefore you still have a lot of flourishing to do.
In particular, it is important to distinguish between promoting collective action, which is politics, and designing collective action, which is political science. This is roughly the difference between studying virology, and releasing deadly viruses. Of course, just as a sterile environment is the right place to study viruses, a power-free environment is the right place to study power.
Uses of the urbane speech code
Almost any social, intellectual or professional space can be urbane. Because urbanity is actually more restrictive than “political correctness”—if it’s not PC, it’s not urbane; if it is PC, it might be urbane—it can even function in small, controlled workplace settings. But I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. Keep it under 50, as they say.
This simple speech code should be (knock on wood) suitable for our comments. Or for a Facebook trout-fishing league, a Github open-source project, a gay disabled yoga class or a Burning Man camp.
Almost no one cares to consume gauche content; it exists only because far too many want to produce it. Well: that’s what manners are for. And these manners are probably obvious to most people—but that’s what standards are for. And as usual: if you like this idea, please don’t hesitate to steal it.