The Korean Peninsula at night
Don’t underestimate the light.
Reductio ad absurdum is the argumentative technique, beloved by law school professors, of stretching a premise to its breaking point. North Korea has been much in the news. Nighttime satellite photos of the Korean peninsula show well-lit South Korea and North Korea in darkness. That darkness is the reductio ad absurdum of the premise of modern governance: that those who govern must employ force, fraud, and censorship against those they govern. Articles bemoan our lack of knowledge of North Korea’s closed society, but literally and metaphorically, the darkness tells you all you need to know.
Exhume the graveyard of governments and you’ll find that for most of the unlamented departed, censorship had taken hold. Censorship goes hand in hand with failure; indeed, it’s one of failure’s chief causes. Truth, information, and communication are as essential for human survival as food, shelter, and water. That they illegitimately rule by force and fraud is a truth that governments try to stop from achieving general circulation. Propaganda and patriotism will only take a government so far, though, especially among its more honest and intelligent constituents. There will always be those who recognize the truth.
Information is the blood flow of the body politic. For argument’s sake there is probably some information in the hands of governments that is better left secret. Let’s put the number at .0001, or one ten-thousandth, of 1 percent of what governments actually keep secret. North Korea is the reductio, having drawn tourniquets tightly around its neck and limbs. From the few accounts we have of life there the physical poverty of its citizens is surpassed only by the intellectual poverty of official state mythology, ideology, history, and indoctrination—quintessential absurdum.
A nation that says in unison, “Bless you, Dear Leader!” every time Dear Bloodthirsty, Tyrannical Dictator sneezes has come the closest to the supposed Holy Grail of rulers and would-be rulers everywhere: mind control. We’re not sure how the burble of information, dissemination, communication, truth, lies, experimentation, false starts, creativity, enterprise, failure, and innovation actually leads to progress. The Internet adds another layer of mystery. However, it can be asserted confidently that the heat map of a “controlled” mind looks just like a map of North Korea at night. Progress becomes regress, as it has in the Hermit Kingdom. A controlled mind is a dying mind.
The growth in nation-state governance and power has been so consistent and long-running—since the end of the Middle Ages—that most people assume it will continue forever. It’s the bull market in which everybody is fully invested at the top, confident it will never end. Stock market tops have their telltale signs—market divergences, weakening breadth, an increasingly narrowing list of winners—generally acknowledged only after the top.
The coming top in government has its telltale signs as well. Is there a government on the planet that wants the truth of what it does disclosed to its populace? The US government continues to press its battles against Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. It’s allies in Silicon Valley, the mainstream media, and academia have been enlisted in its fight against disfavored facts and opinions. Europe’s and Australia’s potentates are fighting the same fight. These are the world’s “liberal” states, with varying traditions of protecting civil liberties. In the rest of the world, for the most part, truth is the enemy governments openly oppose. It will only be recognized after the top, but the mounting effort to repress information flows and the truth marks the apex in governments’ long bull market.
Here is perhaps an open-field run in the one yard and a cloud of dust game the Korean stand-off has become. Offer Kim Jong-un what he has long sought: cessation of the annual joint South Korean-US military exercises. In return, Kim must allow 25,000 of North Korea’s best and brightest young people to visit the US, South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia for at least a year, without minders or surveillance, all expenses paid by the hosts. (For anyone worried about the cost: how much would a war cost?) Kim would most likely refuse, demonstrating for all the world that truth, not hostile foreign powers, is his regime’s ultimate enemy. On the oft chance he accepted (he’s supposedly crazy, after all), the contrasts the hosts—which admittedly have their problems—offer to North Korea would induce acute cognitive dissonance.
A mind on fire is worth at least ten thousand that are not. Send the guests back to North Korea and see what happens. No matter how dutiful their ostensible obsequience, those 25,000 minds would be a fifth column. How do you go back to a rice bowl and sliver of pork after dining at Tokyo’s noodle shops or Los Angeles’s taco stands? Barren, state-run commissaries after shopping at grocery store and shopping mall cornucopias? Urban deserts with a few antiquated autos versus cities where taxis or Ubers whisk you along crowded and exciting avenues? Repeat the guest program until the returnees’ minds on fire reach the critical mass necessary to ignite internal combustion and change.
Truth—it’s power to inspire the imagination or fan the flames of righteous indignation as the case may be—is the ultimate weapon. Recognized or not, stated or not, it always wins. Survey the current scene and there are ample reasons for pessimism. SLL has pointed out its share of clouds. That the truth always wins is a reason for ultimate optimism, and even the current scene has its silver linings.
The Internet—trashy, polluted, and corrupted by governments and the technology giants as some parts of it may be—still yields troves of instantly accessible information, analysis, and subversive entertainment and commentary that were unimaginable a few decades ago. Revolution has not yet come, but to the extent the old order is being undermined, the Internet is leading the way. Neither Brexit nor Trump would have happened without it. Yes, there are still plenty of mainstream blue pill junkies, but the Internet has created a significant and growing red pill subculture that agrees on at least one thing: they’re not getting the truth from the mainstream. Governments can to some extent control it or shut it down, but only at great cost to the information economies on which they depend.
When the Supervolcano arrives, it will be, as much as anything, an eruption of long suppressed truth and logic. Whoever is left will embrace them not out of philosophical insight, but as a matter of survival. In a chaotic world in which mere subsistence becomes problematic, delusion will be unaffordable mental frippery. Believe all you want that governments or gods will drop manna in your lap, but don’t starve yourself waiting for them. You’ll grow too weak to plant, tend, and harvest the crops.
TRUTH IS GREAT, AND EVEN BETTER WHEN IT’S GREAT READING!