On dissidence and sedition
For the student of history, meeting the past in the present is meeting an old friend.
Noah Smith, in email, seems concerned that my repeated recommendations of his fine Substack may be ironic—and that the jocular exhortation of “if only to see what the bastard is up to” might be some sort of code (I am paraphrasing, of course) to my secret agents, to watch him. Noah is right to worry. “Stochastic harassment” is a real thing, and I misspoke. I’m sorry. I’ve deleted the offending sentence from the archived post.
To be very clear: please only subscribe to Noah’s Substack, for entertainment purposes only, to read only because you think he is clever and talented, as I do. Of course, there is no we; if there was a we, we would have no agents; if we had agents, they would not be watching anyone; and if our agents were watching anyone, it would not be Noah Smith.
And, though he is a muggle and his crimestop is perfect as anyone’s, he seems to have some kind of sportscar brake that brings his vehicle to a stop just at the edge. Take this latest excellent post, which would only have to go just a little farther to be true. But who else is saying this? Who?
Nobody—everyone else hit the brakes long ago. Overly aggressive crimestop can often leave quite deep, yet fairly safe, insights on the table. Noah with his daredevil hotshot crimestop brakes will scoop them up and still not go off the cliff. These deep insights are the best reason for anyone who can afford it to subscribe to his Substack. I have no brakes at all—so we’re not even competing with each other.
Yes, it is true that the driver of the Insurrection is fear! And the next logical question, if you wanted to go over the cliff—and join me down here (we have cookies!)—would be to address is whether or not their fear level is (a) just right, (b) too great, or (c)—too little. Fear is an evolutionary reflex conserved for a zillion years which involves leopards.
(This question is entirely separate from the entirely separate question of whether a safe, effective collective reaction to this fear, if it is real fear, involves taking a dump on Nancy Pelosi’s desk—the common opinion of all true gentlemen is that it does not.)
What if you thought about it, Noah, from first principles—you did the math, ran the numbers, checked the models, and decided the answer was—(c)? Imagine one poast that burned like a ball of thermonuclear fire, utterly immolating your whole professional life and probably three-quarters of your personal life, but launching you like a meteor to the top of the Substack leaderboard. Reach under the dash and turn the crimestop switch off—then just gun it, out into perfect empty blue air. You’ll like it down here!
I appreciate the old-fashioned bloggy opportunity to cross lightsabers and will surely see you again on some ice planet somewhere, Noah. Have someone look at that arm. I apologize for questioning your legitimacy, even as a friendly joke, but you’re right—pretty much everywhere is the airport-security line these days. I’ll try to be more careful in the way I speak, and so should everyone else right now. Good times.
The legal art of sedition
Since I started poasting almost 14 years ago, I don’t think anyone has been firmer or more consistent in their stance against any kind of anti-government activism. I’m even opposed to voting—or at least, voting if it’s not part of an effective collective strategy.
I really admire the return of the word sedition, as a real thing, as a live munition, to the marketplace of ideas in 2021. How can I oppose it? My own favorite President is not Trump, Biden, Reagan or even Obama—but John Adams, of the infamous Sedition Act:
That if any person shall write, print, utter or publish any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or to bring them into contempt or disrepute; or to excite against them, or either or any of them, the hatred of the good people of the United States, or to stir up sedition within the United States, or to excite any unlawful combinations therein, for opposing or resisting any law of the United States, then such person shall be punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars, and by imprisonment not exceeding two years.
Okay—two grand. I think have a card I could put that on. Two years… well… um… not everyone here will be happy with this… but… is peace and quiet so bad? Does sedition send you to Palm Springs Tennis Prison—or Florence ADX? Asking for a friend.
But wait—that’s been repealed. What we’re really looking at is the Sedition Act 1918:
Whoever shall wilfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States, or bring the Constitution of the United States, or the flag of the United States, into contempt, scorn, contumely, or disrepute, and whoever shall wilfully advocate, teach, defend, or suggest the doing of any of the acts or things in this section, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than twenty years, or both...."
Ten grand. Okay. I mean—that’s real money. And twenty years—wow. Ok brb booking that flight to Tel Aviv. Aliyah baby! I hear Israel won’t even extradite actual pedos, so… there comes a time in every seditionist’s life when he has to cross his fingers, and play the Jew card—if he has it, that is—[chuckles evilly, hands clasped together].
Fine! I have no roots, anyway. As Isaiah Berlin said—trees have roots—Jews have legs.
But wait—that’s been repealed. What we’re really looking at is the Alien Registration Act of 1940, aka the Smith Act, which has not been repealed:
It shall be unlawful for any person to print, publish, edit, issue, circulate, sell, distribute, or publicly display any written or printed matter advocating, advising, or teaching the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence.
I think I am actually safe under this text—since I always stress the nonviolent nature of any well-shaped regime change. This venerable and sacred law leaves it 100% legal to teach the duty, necessity, desirability and propriety of overthrowing every god-damned government in the United States—so long as it is done without force or violence.
That word force, though, is not without nuance. It cannot be a dead letter. It might even be read to include the entirety of the Schmittian exception—which would be, from the standpoint of pure political philosophy, bad. But—
Although the Smith Act is still on the books, so is the Constitution. The latter wins. Specifically, the binding precedent is not law but case law, namely Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969)—which protects any speech unless it happens to be “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”
A humble student of history wouldn’t seem to have that much to worry about here. But of course, all law is a fiction and all power flows from the barrel of a gun—and down its bayonet, as the reader may remember.
In the end, the only advice I can give is that if some such device is pointing at you—be somewhere else. And never, ever shoot back. Every government, atrocious as it may be, is literally ordained by God. It does often turn out that God has set a timer—but you’ll only know when it goes off. And then—why not be ready with a plan? Officer, do feel free to search the trunk—but there isn’t anything in there but a bunch of philosophy.
What real dissidents are actually like
In case the picture of some kind of Dr. No seasteading underwater volcano base run by Peter Thiel as a Catholic LSD fascist immortality-technology gay eugenics sex cult, as promoted by your friendly local fishwarp, has found some foothold in your coconut, let me reassure you—I am poasting from no such facility. I have met Peter Thiel. I haven’t talked to him in a while. I’m sure he’s doing fine. Everything else, like usual, is a lie.
What are actual dissidents like? Are they like the Proud Boys—out, in the [deleted] words of the great Matthew Yglesias, to “beat and murder Jews and people of color with impunity?” Well—I did once have a beer with Milo. (Say what you want about Milo—at least he knows not to hit on straight guys.) And Milo knows Gavin—so you should cancel my bank account right now. Oh wait, that already happened.
What you should know, especially if you are the only person you know IRL who reads this crazy shit, is that pretty much everyone who reads this crazy shit is like you. Like what? Who are you, anyway? What are you like?
I have met a lot of my readers. You are all basically the same person: extremely bright, surprisingly social, highly disagreeable verbal nerds. All the way across civilization this type has been a thing. A lot of people can write books. If anyone writes a book that can last a thousand years, though—it will be them. Or rather, you.
Always in civilized history there has been this sordid, barely-legal edgelord subliterati. In some blessed ages, the ladder of fortune and the ladder of honor coincide. This does not happen often, and when it happens it is never to be relied on. Usually, you have to choose; usually, the situation is as in Basil Bunting’s Chomei at Toyama:
A man like me can have neither servants nor friends
in the present state of society.
If I did not build for myself
for whom should I build?
Friends fancy a rich man’s riches,
friends suck up to a man in high office.
If you keep straight you will have no friends
but catgut and blossom in season.
Servants weigh out their devotion
in proportion to their perquisites.
What do they care for peace and quiet?
There are more pickings in town.
As Edith Hamilton said to her friend Freda Utley, who’d been fucked over and ghosted by her hipster SJW friends when her Russian husband vanished into the Gulag: “Don't expect the material rewards of unrighteousness while engaged in the pursuit of truth.” The younger you are, the harder I’m afraid you have to work to understand this lesson.
Spiritual success is not as easy as it looks. You can’t just be spiritual yourself. You have to spread it. While people spread a lot of viruses and other contagious mind-garbage, you have a very special cargo—the truth, your truth, as assayed in your mind’s cupel.
And the truth can come to any swine. But not by eating your pearls! Your only possible marketing strategy was outlined before you were born. How to reach your audience—or at least, how I have reached mine:
They will find him without his doing anything about it; in fact, if he tries to do anything about it, he is pretty sure to put them off. He does not need to advertise for them, nor resort to any schemes of publicity to get their attention.
If he is a preacher or a public speaker, he may be quite indifferent to going on show at receptions, getting his picture printed in the newspapers, or furnishing autobiographical material for publication on the side of "human interest." If a writer, he need not make a point of attending any pink teas, autographing books at wholesale, nor entering into any specious freemasonry with reviewers.
All this and much more of the same order lies in the regular and necessary routine laid down for the prophet of the masses; it is, and must be, part of the great general technique of getting the mass man’s ear—or as our vigorous and excellent publicist, Mr. H.L. Mencken, puts it, the technique of boob bumping.
While Mr. H.L Mencken’s boob was the now-vanished Penrod Midwestern booboisie, today’s bobo is the middlebrow New Yorker literati—the daily kibble of a Bloomberg columnist, the roadkill to his seagull. The sophisticated Midwestern dentist, with the New Yorker in his waiting room, remains easy prey for all this sophisticated genius. The “prophet of the masses” still turns an excellent trade and always will. And haven’t we just had a super-fun time with him?
Needless to say, Gray Mirror is to the New Yorker as DMT to Coors. While it’s true that our subscriber graph lately looks like the proverbial hockey stick, every such stick is only half of a sigmoid. Our maximum achievable market penetration will flatline at the number of motherfuckers who can handle this shit—and that number, friends, is smaller than you think.
How many dissidents were there in Russia in 1985? A thousand? Ten thousand? I can’t imagine it being much more than ten thousand. And I know for a fact: the prospect of actually winning was completely unthinkable. How many Russians are there? In fact, it was so unthinkable that no one even bothered to make a plan for it. And yet—
We’re here because we’d rather not make that mistake again. If you’d care to join us: